by Laurel Radzieski
Physical supplies associated with occupational tasks interest me, perhaps because the necessities of writers are so minimal. At the most basic level, a writer needs something to write with and on. Pen and paper will do with one’s lap or a desk to lean on; a computer or other electronic device usually fills both briefs. Many writers add a spatial requirement to the list too. We often develop preferences for certain types of writing implements, a specific brand or style of notebook, and a printer is nice to have on hand. Still, even with supply preferences, I can write a poem with a dying pen on the back of a grocery store receipt. When the work needs to occur, a writer’s materials are so common that they are usually at hand or nearby. In a pinch, I’ve repeated the poem aloud until the tools could be reached.
In contrast, my mother is a fiber artist and she does not share the luxury of simplicity. As an artist with a physical medium, her home is brimming with objects related to her creative work. Every one of my visits features an introduction to a new supply. Many items are familiar – a spinning wheel, knitting needles, crochet hooks, stacks of yarn. Less recognizable are the weaving loom pieces and associated implements, piles of wool in various stages of processing, wooden paddles covered in metal tines, devices made of plastic piping with rotating parts. To be clear, my mother does not need every spinning contraption or color of dye to do her work, but I expect she experiences pleasure collecting these additions in the same way that I enjoy purchasing books when I already have so many still unread on my shelves.
Although I do not need more than a notebook and pen to write, I teach creative writing workshops and present interactive poetry installations in community spaces. As a result of these practices, additional equipment has been procured and, when necessary, created. For example, my home contains a carload worth of National Geographic magazines that were accepted from a collector with the thought that I would use them during writing workshops. I have been known to bring a few clipped pictures and sometimes a stack of issues for students to peruse, but after several years the volume of magazines has yet to be significantly impacted.
My creative practice involves writing poems for strangers in pop-up installations as a form of community service. The large suitcase that I drag up steps, into and out of my trunk, has a heavy word processor, along with picture frames, power strip, carbon-less copy paper, and tissues (sometimes people cry when they receive a personalized poem). In addition, I look for a particular Jell-O recipe book at every book sale I attend because I would like to make the book a required text for a poetry class, but I feel it only fair to provide student copies, since it is long out of print.
Although the act of writing requires few tools, being a writer has led me to accumulate additional supplies and I currently possess the following items:
- Over 100 fifty-year-old romance novels that I have no intention of reading
- A set of Jenga blocks with words glued onto the long sides
- Two copies of the same edition of a classic novel with several pages of words cut out and divided into small glass jars stored in a drawer
- One long role of paper tape with “Drifting Flowers of the Sea” by Sadakichi Hartmann handwritten on the non-adhesive side.
- 17 boxes filled with National Geographic magazines circa the 1930s to the 1990s and one box of National Geographic magazine maps
- The New Joys of Jell-O Brand Gelatin Dessert Recipe Book (three copies)
When asked what I need for a class or event, I usually reply, “Have notebook; will travel.” A more honest response would be, “Have notebook; will travel and can bring various items that I feel could have value to writers in a class or informal setting and would be able to offer participants the ability to free-write on a piece of an outdated map, perhaps within a body of water. Also, do you have any interest in Jell-O?”
Laurel Radzieski is a poet and the author of Red Mother (NYQ Books, 2018). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Rust + Moth, Atlas and Alice, Kosmos Journal, Glintmoon and elsewhere, including on roadsides and a street sign in Wisconsin. She is the Grant Writer for Lackawanna College and an artist-in-residence for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Arts in Education program of the Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit. Laurel has been a writer-in-residence at the Wormfarm Institute where she lived comfortably in a barn. She presents on-the-spot poetry installations and enjoys writing poems for strangers. Laurel received her MFA from Goddard College. She resides in northeastern Pennsylvania. She will be the Visiting Alum at the VT residency in January 2020.