Recently, Bethany Reid tagged me on the blog tour. Bethany’s post inspired me, and I want to read her novel.
This summer, the challenge has been to write at all. More than once, I’ve thought, “I don’t remember how to write a poem,” although in July I participated in a 10-poem challenge (a way to get myself writing whether I felt like I could or not). Otherwise, I’m still trying to fit things in–can I go to the gym (this morning, I’m skipping the gym) and write and work and learn Italian while I’m stuck in traffic and post the Saturday poetry pick and do all the household chores that mostly I’ve been letting sit undone? Fortunately, none of these questions is about laundry. The writing work or play or exploration goes slowly, and I’m grateful any time I have enough mental space to focus without feeling rushed.
But on to the official questions. I want to say this is a snapshot–I am right here. But that makes me laugh, because most of my photos are so blurred.
What am I working on?
So many things!
The manuscript I’ve been writing since 2010 and sending out for nearly two years. Always revisiting, revising, falling out of and back in love (that’s a lot of falling).
The grief poems.
A new series of poems that started out as investigations into measurement and love and long relationships. I’m trying to let these not be a manuscript, to keep writing until they find their own shape.
The one-off poems that arrive and wedge their feet in the door.
Then there’s what I haven’t been working on–the poems from past poetry months (Chernobyl and Fukushima, Mary Lincoln) and the currently stalled novel.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?
It’s tempting to blow that question off by saying my work isn’t any different. But how depressing would that be? I’d love for my poems to be more startling–but that’s a process, so I’ll start with a story (I might have told you before): At a reading in 2003 or 2004, Olena Kalytiak Davis said something to the effect of I wouldn’t want to write the same kind of book again, and I sat in my chair, thunderstruck. What? You can’t write keep writing the same kind of poems–that isn’t a good thing? Then I delved deeper into the post-modern lyric poets, reading more widely, expanding my own understanding of poetry. Into the Rumored Spring was initially inspired by (believe it or not) Brigitte Byrd’s Fence Above the Sea.
In 2010, I took a class from Sarah Vap, which sent me in the direction of breaking up the narrative. In Both Hands has those poems, plus prose poems, plus these more metrical map poems (six-beat line), as well as some more straight-forward poems. The poems from the aforementioned manuscript also work with metrics and emphasize music.
These days, music is what I elevate–music and form (not in the formal verse sense, but in the way that sound and shape work with each other or play against each other). So while I’d like my work to be really different in a good way from everyone else’s, I’m focusing more on making my poems different from what I’ve already done. And sometimes that doesn’t work, or I haven’t figured out how to make it work. I’d like the grief poems to be layered, but they also need to be immediately accessible, which might make them not so different from anything. I guess if they do their job, that’s okay.
Why do I write what I do?
Because the poem is given to me (those rare moments). Or to give the poem to someone. Every autumn I write a poem for a friend, because we’ve both in our pasts suffered losses–abrupt, shocking losses–and this is what I can give her. Into the Rumored Spring was a gift for another friend. The grief poems are the same–as more friends lost their husbands, I wanted to be able to give them something, some way to say that although I can’t possibly know what they are going through, I have been there and I’m here for them.
I also write to understand. Some days I think the measurement poems will never be a completed thing, but I need to write them so that through the writing I can learn something important about myself and the way I live in the world.
And then the past couple of poetry months, I’ve chosen topics outside myself to get myself out of my own head (I worry about navel-gazing).
How does my writing process work?
Oh, I love process–and I love playing with process.
Right now, I read a few poems and then free-write (often in my car in the parking lot before work). If I don’t already have an idea, I start by making a list or I choose words from what I read and use one in each line. If I have time. I’d like to spend 15 or 20 minutes a day, but I suspect I’m down closer to 5.
In a few days or weeks, I type the free writes that look like they have potential into my computer. I use OneNote to keep drafts together, so I can go back and look at them, pull from earlier versions. I return, revise. Then I might print out a draft and write in the margins, or triple space it and write between the lines. I might combine two poems into one.
When I was working on In Both Hands, I had a great time choosing 5-7 postcards from my big box, writing from those images for a few days, aggregating all of it, sorting it, and then paring it away.
To keep the tour moving, I’m tagging Jeannine Hall Gailey, whose poems question and stretch the boundaries of what’s possible and who writes such helpful posts, and Oliver de la Paz, whose poems always inspire me–and he has a new book out!