Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Ways to Think About a Book Title

Something About a Dark Honeycomb--5 words, 9 syllables. This title is more evocative, visible, has intimations of both uncertainty and shadow which surely is what my writing is imbued with. Even in joyful poems of which there are some. This title is more pleasing to the ear with the ing, the -ar-, the n and ms, the long last o vowel. When I read about the phrase “dark honeycomb,” I can see that if it was studied it could be meaningful--the place where the baby bees are birthed/raised (whatever happens to baby bees from whatever form they come from) the darkness indicative of less pure matter, more occupied, busier cells as opposed to the tranquil hexagons of only honey. Is it misleading to reference a natural object that really doesn’t have a primary place in the poems as opposed to a bird or the lake or other objects repetitively addressed and hauled out for scenery? Is it misleading because of its relationship to sweetness--although the honeycomb itself would be a rougher version and maybe dark curtails full sweetness (the difference if title was Something About Honey--which sounds maybe too Winnie the Pooh to me. Maybe only if it’s a jar of honey.) Also, the side-note thinking about the power/significance of a poem that a title is taken from. If this was the book title, it is also a poem title. I like the poem, but don’t think it’s most powerful or central or even in the top 5.

Cupboard That Won’t Quite Shut--5 words, 6 syllables. Am I paying attention to this counting because I’m worried that other people don’t like the long, long titles that I revel in? Are they too much like those people who have a first name, a last name, and 10 or 12 others in between? If I think only about sound, I might note that all of the end sounds are hard sounds, stops--d or t. How unlikely that feels. Makes it more emphatic, less mellifluous? I like this title because of the idea of container, so something is inside, and also that the container is somehow imperfect. And the sense of everydayness to the named object--cupboard. It’s a very domestic word. Everyone has one or more filled with things they love and things they’re trying to hide. Or things they’ve forgotten or want to forget. Sometimes they are very neat with shelf paper, but the un-shut-ability of this cupboard seems to argue against that. Also, if not shut things can not only leak out, but also get in. No closed system here. And that feels very true to me. Kind of as if Pandora’s Box is a very false story because it can never remain completely closed forever. Maybe Pandora is blameless? Maybe the un-shut-ability also gives a kind of energy/life to things contained?

I’m down to these two titles from an all-time high of 32 choices. (A long time ago, I had a book that was titled Mystery Hill. I still like that title.)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Ten Thousand Hours

I was just reading an artist blog that referenced Malcolm Gladwell's calculation that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery. Such a large number feels unfathomable. But if I figure out how many hours there are in a year (8760--not counting any leap  nonsense), I can wrap my head around the figure. Still it feels unhelpful in the same way as thinking that one spends a third of one's life in bed (by which is meant asleep).

Ten thousand hours. Is this the same thing as infinity when you're at the beginning of artistic desire? But on another shore (not opposite because that would mean the end), I calculate again.

If I say it's been 30 years that I've been working on poems--returning, writing, scratching out, throwing away--that comes to 333.33 hours per year. 333.33 hours--underlining, using the dictionary, wishing I believed in the muse (not really), cutting and pasting--divided by 12 months, comes out to 27.77 hours per month--rethinking, sending out, making sound lists, rejecting, counting lines--which would be less than an hour a day.

So I may have put the time in already which comes as a suprise to me.

Of course achieving "mastery" is another long discussion entirely.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Roses are Sometimes Not Red or Why Dr. Seuss Doesn't Write Poems


"Roses are red" is not a poem.

Dr. Seuss--not. Sorry.

Shel Silverstein. Sorry again.

Is this a continuum--verse to poem? Or is it two grab bags, two pencil boxes, two messy stacks of paper, the side of the goat and the side of the sheep, the Atlantic and the Pacific, the lady or the tiger, the lion and the lamb? I teach in an art school so I should be able to say "Roses are red" is to a poem as a stick figure is to the Mona Lisa. And is the difference skill or ambition or shimmer?

Yesterday a student said we agree to disagree when I would only agree to saying that Dr. Seuss writes narratives that rhyme. And sometimes there's not much narrative.

I once did a break down of what "Roses are Red" does and doesn't do:
  • It's succinct rather than flabby.
  • It's memorable.
  • It's traditional--harking back to some lines in Spenser which might be a little racier than the current version: 
                       She bath'd her brest, the boyling heat t'allay;
                       She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
                       And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.
  • Alliteration, consonance, end rhyme, interior rhyme, and half rhyme contribute to its musicality.
  • The metrical pattern has a variation in foot at a key place (beginning of last line when we move to the beloved), conveying information and contributing to musicality.
What is the problem? Is it only a cliche through overuse? If it were a rare unremembered song in  the Roud Folk Song Index (#19798), would I feel differently?

And yet I think the problem for me is the images chosen. They feel easy. They don't seem to have any nuance. We are moving from "fact" 1 to "fact" 2 to "fact" 3, and pretending line 4 is also a fact. Does this kind of false argument have a name? Sometimes roses are not red. Sometimes violets are white. Their sensory existence is predetermined by nature which is not true of line 4. Is line 4 just flattery? Is line 4 just a swift sweep up of the common endearment--sweetheart or honey?

Maybe it's that these images--rose, violet, sugar--are unrelated in any meaningful way to the beloved. When Robert Burns says, "O my Luve's like a red, red rose" there's a connection between the beloved and the image. The image is there to begin a wave of possibility. We can enumerate the ways this might be--soft, fragrant, beautiful, swift to die . . . 

So what is missing is complexity, layers, some kind of shimmer to meaning that cannot be entirely nailed down? Holograms of meaning? The ability of the poem to keep opening/shifting instead of closing down?

When we return to a poem time after time is there still pleasure, discovery, an unfolding? Do we need the burden of purpose or an unburdening on the page or the making of a kind of armor that can be shared? A sense of the serious?


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Why Did I Do It?

This past week I've written a poem in a strange form. It started out regular in a block of prose text, but then I decided to separate the phrasing into thumbnails in columns in a grid of white space. First, it was 3 columns, then 4. I played around with the question of how many thumbnails there should be. I had 15--should I have only 14 because that's the magic number for a small poem--calling all Shakespeares, calling all Petrarchs. But I think I've discussed my love/hate relationship with this idea before.

I had begun this strange shaping as a result of several subconscious influences, two of which I can identify. The first was a series of  Story Trope Bingo cards on Book Riot which offer plot points like "Dark Past" and "Someone Vomits."  The other influence was a picture I saw online of an art installation consisting of dozens of photos overlapping and ruffled like plumage, stuttering out an image. But for this particular poem, I settled on a grid from my past--the sliding tile puzzle, where disordered tiles are pushed around to spell a phrase. You could use your thumbs just like texting.

Should this kind of poem be subject or approach specific, if I considered a series? Should the title have 4 parts (like the 4 columns)? Is there any kind of suggestion in the poem that the parts really could be pushed around? Although the puzzles were only solved to 1 order as far as I know. But if we are not at least thinking about disorder, what is the point?


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Making Lists (a Kind of Crochet)

I feel that I should follow my last post with "10 Things I Love About Writing," but I'm not feeling that exuberant today. Maybe because it's February. Maybe because I'm going to have to shovel snow later although usually after I get out there I kind of like it. So bright and impersonal and large.

Instead, I'm going to talk more about lists which I am always making in notebooks and on scraps of paper and now in Google Drive. Sometimes I never consult them again. They're a way of thinking through things. Here's some of my recent lists that had titles:
  • "Today"--this is on my Google Drive so that I can consult with it anywhere (ha) and includes random things I should do, the week ahead, and a little section on where I can shoehorn writing into my day.
  • "What I Do and Whether I Should"--you can tell I started this around the first of the year but sometimes it's useful to state why you do something on a regular basis. Things need to be examined. Although I do make a semi-impassioned defense of watching TV late in the evening having to do with the mushiness of my brain
  • "5 Things I Should Do in the next 5 Years But That I Might Not""--what does it mean that I could only come up with 1 thing that was relatively new?
  • "My Life But Better"--the first sentence says "What Are You Waiting For?" 
Side note: I'm very fond of the list in poetry. Last class, my students and I noticed and appreciated the list on line 4 of Kim Addonizio's "Onset": "Everywhere emergence: seed case, chrysalis, uterus, endless manufacturing." Unusual objects, replicating shapes, repetitive (in that plus plus way) sounds. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Ten Things I Hate About Writing

Even though I belong to two writing groups (1 poetry, 1 mixed) and go to two annual retreats (both mixed), sometimes you need more. So yesterday, my sister and I had a writing day.  We talked and made lists: 3 event-oriented things to do in the next six months, 3 things to change in our writing life, 3 things to stop doing, etc. We made a list of 10 things to write about. And we made a list of 10 things we hate about writing. This was meant to be a kind of joke category. Here's what I came up with:

1. I hate that I can't do it all the time.
2. I hate when I seem to be returning to something I thought I was done with.
3. I hate how there's this unconscious/subconscious element. The thing in my head that I cannot control, but I can coax. It's like a goddamn husband. Tempt it to please me!
4. I do not hate how it has become more labyrinthine or complex, how it has remained fluid and potentially unsatisfactory even though it was once satisfactory that way.
5. I hate that I don't have enough time to read support literature whether other poetry, how-to, research for something I want to write.
6. I hate that I cannot expect to support myself as a poet.
7. I hate that there is so much bad writing in the world.
(I could only come up with 7. I stole 8 from my sister.)
8. I hate not being read.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Notes on Student Poems

  • Streamline. How to say something more clearly. 
  • More humor. Jazzy titles
  • How can the reader know what you know? Readers respond to image, narrative, the unexpected, a different point of view.
  • Abandon centering. Think about using stanzas/space to create clearer meaning.
  • Rhyme is doing you no favor.
  • OK. I like all this where the familiar tale is being mixed with other things and given new particulars. But then in last two lines back to usual--why?
  • Too pretty sounding?
  • I like this incremental repetition but I want more. Push harder.
  • Combination of two things can increase interest, effectiveness.
  • Read aloud for rhythm, clarity, necessity.
  • What I want most is for you to experiment with not centering--will change feeling of lines.
  • Cutting always good.
  • Language--what is the ratio of complexity to clarity. Think about necessity. Deliberately making it more difficult and I can be fine with that if it has a purpose--re-seeing?
  • Maybe un-sentencing would help.
  • This sounds funny.
  • A little falling off towards the end where earlier there's all this great, various stuff. Think about order.
  • Think about line breaks to shake up usual way of reading and emphasizing words.
  • Doesn't hang together in interesting or directive way like what follows.
  • Not clear to me why this enters the poem.
  • This is a great quote but it seems sassier than the poem itself.
  • Think about order--clusters of idea/messages.
  • Why so many commas?