Myra Sklarew: A Poet Discovers the 100-Word Story

Myra Sklarew is former president of Yaddo Artists Community and professor emerita at American University. She is the author of Harmless (poetry, 2010), editor of The Journey of Child Development, and co-editor of the forthcoming Holocaust and the Construction of Memory.

Had you heard of the 100-word idea before we approached you?

You’re a poet. Does that make writing 100 words easier? (If so, how?)
Yes. I’m always thinking of ways to condense the poem, to intensify it, to move away anything extraneous, to get to the white heat of experience. To find the perfect metaphor, which isn’t always possible!

Do you approach the writing of the 100 words as a prose poem or a short, short story?
As a prose poem.

What do you think of the web—boon or obstacle for creative writers?
Such a complicated question. We’re talking about a huge revolution that we’ve only begun to understand. What does it mean that my youngest granddaughter can text message with her cell phone in her pocket. She doesn’t even have to look at the letters to type a message to her friend. It’s as instinctive as breathing. And she seems able to handle multiple stimuli and still learn and get things done. But surely it is reshaping how the brain works. It’s as if one carried a tiny piano around inside the palm and was playing tunes all day long and everybody was chirping and singing to one another with the hands instead of the voice. I sometimes wish for the long, lonely days when one could enter deeply into the work with sustained periods. But did we ever really have them! Maybe a fantasy. How did Rilke do it? He went off to the Duino Castle and stood facing the wind. Or Dante in exile. Or Ovid, in exile. Maybe we need to be in exile. Without our computers and cell phones and ipads, etc. But then I wouldn’t be writing this, would I!

What do you like to read—and why?
Here is what I am currently reading: All of Elliott Coleman’s books, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, Happy Accidents, Serendipity in Modern Medical Breakthroughs by Morton Meyers, Diary by Richard Selzer, My Stroke of Insight by Jill Taylor,  The Emperor of All Maladies by S. Mukherjee,  Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, The Tree of Meaning: Language, Mind and Ecology by Robert Bringhurst, The Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus by Avivah Zornberg, The Hidden Brain by R. Douglas Fields, and reading for a course at National Institutes of Health, Demystifying Medicine, which covers a huge variety of medical syndromes. My early training in biology and neurophysiology and my interest in those disciplines has never waned and is more keen now than ever, particularly as the field of neuroscience has become so central and the tools now available provide so much better information. I am always reading poetry, going back to poets whose work I love, reading works sent to me by other writers. Reading is the great gift.

What was your favorite creative writing exercise to give your students?
I imagine you’d have to ask the students. But recently Paulette Beete sent a poem via the web that she wrote during my assignment to do brief writing sketches during life drawing classes in the art department where art students were doing brief sketches of a model. Her poem was stunning and so were many that were produced on the spot in that situation.

Photo credit: Allie and Eric Sklarew

For more, read Myra’s three-part story Village Birth.

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