Wednesday, May 15, 2019

There is Nothing like a List to Get You Going or My Imaginary Desk

New poem-work

1. I’d like to assemble a manuscript and see what it’s saying. I have a feeling that 
there’s a fleeting sense  of bodily wrongness before I get to the illness/recovery 
poems. How weird is that. An anticipation because you don’t know what it is but
you know it’s coming.

2. Press on illness/recovery poems. Are there more? I should have a time where
 I just try to riff on the places and feelings and stick figure me in the midst. If I 
cannot  think. If I cannot walk.

3. Just a little while ago I had the idea of the word “Beggar.” I think it’s related to
 illness/recovery. Have a  focus-day session on that. What I am to you. See what 
birds land in the field.

4. Poems of joy which seem to be more easily had than poems of happiness. 

5. I would like to read through all my poems again. Chapbook book chapbook 
(book) (book) (book) (now about to be book).

6. Get the work out both small and large. Really push on this. Make up a summer
list of things to do.

7. Do I want to have some kind of public appearance after the reading in June? 

8. I was quite put out when it seemed I was terribly whacked yesterday by being 
outside and on my feet for 40 minutes. In honor of my stamina deficiency, I’m going 
to try to do things in 20-30 minute increments  in May and June. This will include 
writing (although I think I’ve successfully written for a couple of hours once at least
lately). But anyway maybe I must write every morning at work for 20 minutes. 
Maybe it can only be freewriting (which may address many things but must be a 
scallop of riffs, a flounce). 

9. I want to have poem ideas and write poems whether they’re planned or 
unplanned, thought of or unthought of. Write write write with or without punctuation.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Winter Retreat

I am at the retreat and I want to write about the retreat and I want to write but I also want to take a walk while it's still 51 degrees and little pieces of ice are crunching and returning to a runny state and really I want to read all the poems I've brought with me to see who I am now which I don't precisely mean because I know who I am but my moorings are different and I'm floating on bigger waves almost tipping over but there are also all the little notes the little dribs and drabs although they are not drab--where does that come from--little pieces or things that fly through my brain and I've been paying attention and writing them down to wit
  • labelling everything in the house
  • Aunt M and her bundle of hair
  • "It's all around us"
  • lump sum
  • like a slack drumhead
and I'm waiting for them to commune on the page to writhe like worms to find their best selves without a lot of bother from me. Sunshine. Wind chime. Pond path in January.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Process Notes

I was thinking of asking my students to journal about the process of writing one of their poems later in the semester. So I ask it of myself now with a recent poem titled (at this point) "I Never Dreamt of Trees." It began with trying to recreate in words the physical sensation of dropping off to sleep as I sat in a chair. Not my eyes heavy but my head. There was such a pull. And the sensation so vivid.

So I had the notion and I kept clinging to that notion/image while looping around it as if it were a maypole. (driving in my car, driving in my car) Little half sentences and repetitive bits remembered and written down. First writing in the back pages of my general notebook, sometimes up the side of the page.

Then the words being slid around and fastened into couplets--this time on google drive so I can access this poem start anywhere. Where do the lines end? Considering the line breaks makes me lop off a few words.

I go back to my original notes and realize I've left out "stickiness," "the stickiness of dreams," but really it's there in other words  (but sticky is such a good word). I wonder if I have gotten in this idea that the things I dream of are not from nature. I wonder if the poem which feels meditative/observational wants to go somewhere (and it should). Picking up toys I remember that I wanted to have something about Chinese handcuffs in there.

I think I am realizing that this poem is not yet done (I don't want to read it right now). Last night when I dreamt I realized there is a much better sense of surround in the dream than I was thinking. Maybe that's the part you forget first when you wake up. Background goes, then the not-really narrative.

Friday, January 6, 2017

What Keyser Soze Has to do with My Most Recent Poem (and Googling)

It was my lunch hour. I had a little time, a little space, a great deal of quiet. I was trying to write a poem but nothing would come. It felt like floating in a sea of corks. No fluidity. Lots of blunted mental buffeting.

Finally, I decided to Keyser Soze the second half of the poem. I turned to my bulletin board and picked off random pieces of language to move things along. Some of the language I chose: astra, full cold moon, onion sets. Also, from stuff I'd seen on the internet that morning, the idea of winter, the idea of the northern lights.

At different times this week I was dib-dabbing at two separate poems. Here are some of the things I googled in the course of composition:
--mukluk--spelling and manufacture
--counterpane--is this word obsolete?
--clog dance--and its ties to the industrial revolution (who knew!)
--astra--word origins
--macron--exact definition
--musical saw on youtube--what do they sound like? first song was "Ave Maria"
--saucers of milk for the fairies ("green jacket, red cap/ and white owl's feather!")
--bank as in river bank or bank at the side of the road--looking for definitions and synonyms

My sister googled:
--deadly nightshade again (paralysis)
--girl's names beginning with "L"
--Slovak for "be quiet"

Googling is terrific for quick (and sometimes unexpected) facts and connections, but I miss the pages of my old dictionary, my old Roget, the massive OED.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Is Order Important?

It seems to me poets are continually faced with the problem of order. Once the poems are done we keep having to cluster and recluster when we submit them. Should we send a range of work in those 3 to 5 poems? Should we send related poems, poems from a series, poems with the same voice, poems in the same format? Which poem should be placed on top?

If we're giving a reading we have to decide which poems to read and in what order. And there are further complications here. Some poems read aloud better than others. Some are surefire crowd pleasers--accessible enough, complicated enough, deep but with some self-deprecating humor.

When we're putting a book together, we have to consider the reader in a different way. We have to think about how people read. If it's a novel, mostly I'd say they begin at the beginning and continue through to the end, unless it's a bad mystery, and we skip all the middle and just read who-done-it. I know when I read The New Yorker, I almost always start in the back--those briefer pieces easing me into its intellectual waters. When reading the newspaper, people will habitually attack it in a certain way--comics first, horoscopes, sports, editorials. What about a volume of poems?

Some poets say they don't really think about the order of their poems as they're fitted into a book. They claim readers just dip into a book of poetry--gulp, gulp--so worrying about order is unnecessary. What would be important for those who approach the book as the insect does a flower--hover, land, buzz around some more, hover, land--is that the poem they land on is a good poem--something that will attract, maybe even entrance the gadabout reader, so they'll make another pass at the pages.

But I think the unconcerned poet is missing an opportunity. I doubt they'd be satisfied with a hodgepodge of work stuck together like a ball of used masking tape. Perhaps their manipulation of poems occurs in a more wordless, subconscious state--a kind of literary feng-shui. If a book of poems is looked at as a deliberate sequence, however, meant to be read in a particular order, then the effect on the reader can be cumulative.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Troublesome Poems (I've Had a Few)

Recently, I headed up a workshop about troublesome poems. It was called Vital Signs: First Aid for Poems. In gathering useful thoughts for the class, I wondered if all the categories of troublesome poems, all the queries/flaws/doubts could break down to:

The poem that is there but in disguise--uncover:
  • And here I do not necessarily mean to uncomplicate the poem because layers and braiding and teeter-tottering between different materials can be effective. One does not always speak directly in a poem.
  • Is there a lot of language clutter in the poem? Could the poem benefit from lopping off the beginning or the end which is where we tend to get explain-y? Could the poem be improved by deducting 10 percent of the words/20 percent of the words?
  • Have you read the poem out loud? Have you put your finger down on the place where it “sounds funny” which can be a rhythm problem or maybe a grammatical problem or a problem of clarity or the discovery that what you wrote does not really mean what you want to say?
  • What about using line breaks or white space to put more room in the poem, pauses where meaning can accrue? 
The poem that is not yet there--call forth: 
Discovering/calling forth is harder. (No reference to a muse intended or welcome here.)
  • First, I would say get rid of the idea that the poem can mean anything, that the images and language are just serviceable placeholders that the reader hangs his own experience on. If that was so, why bother? Therefore:
  • Readdress the images you use. If there are no images, this is worrisome. Be more specific which is the same as being in control of your poem. Create the landscape of the poem, so that the kitchen chair is the kitchen chair you remember, not the placeholder for the reader’s experience.
  • Make language choices that are unexpected, that keep the reader awake while reading. This has to do with their sound and their aptness and their specificity all at once.
  • Is the poem you’ve written from the wrong perspective? Or from a too usual perspective? Does it needs a new focus? Sometimes I recommend writing what I call companion poems--poems with a different speaker or addressed to the acorn under the speaker’s foot or in the voice of a series of waves on a winter day. How can I approach in a different way--sideways/upside-down/more thoroughly? Which is to say tell it slant.
  • Sometimes maybe you’re boring yourself? By which I mean you are writing in the way you have always written and maybe you want/need something else.

Friday, November 20, 2015

How I Thought/Think About Poems I Write (Connection)

A long time ago, I was trying to write a poem that was solid, all of a piece, weighty as a stone that I could drop into the vast water of a reader's attention. There would be that satisfying plop noise and then the rings travelling out all the way to the invisible beyond.

Then my desire for narrative crept in. How do I make the poem longer? How do I put the story together, where does it end? And now the rock isn't the poem, and the poem is not a container. The poem is an action bouncing off the surface of the water again and again. Or it's the points of the star that show how to draw a constellation like a crazy skeleton with faulty cartilage allowing some flex and bend.

So many of the ways I thought about poetry I have broken down. I have put aside line break rationales in order to embrace the pudding of white space holding things up, together or apart, on the page. Maybe hearing different rhythms  hurried this along? Maybe a growing love for piece-i-ness? Maybe the fatalistic nature of growing older recognizes a truth about connection: putting two things together is what makes them jump.