Sunday, November 2, 2014

A Draft with Theories


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The above is a first draft of a poem I wrote last week.  It's the first poem I have written in a long time, and it's riddled with problems.  Chief among them, I have no idea how to end the poem.  It's not so simple as stop writing words.  I cannot see the ending like I am so used to with my poetry---or have had with most of my poems up to this point.  This is the furthest any of my poems have gone without an ending.  Ever.  I have absolutely no idea what to do with this poem except for one very real, very physical truth---I need to finish it.

This poem is a very real microcosm for my life as a writer.  Some of these things will be recognized by a regular reader of this blog.

1.  When I have begun to write a manuscript (that moment when I know what a book is going to be about) I become singularly focused on the book and everything I write is going to be related in some way to that manuscript.

2.  When I get 90% finished with a manuscript, I lose interest in what I am writing and begin to use my energy to write other things, desperately searching for some kind of escape from what I am supposed to be working on, and unfortunately that last 10% includes proofreading and the final tweaks of grammar, punctuation,  and syntax. 

3.  I cannot commit to new work until I 'feel' the work of the current manuscript is complete.

4.  I cannot write anything new until I genuinely panic as a result of not having written anything new for far too long.

I have such a manuscript which is as finished as I can make it---it is a sort of 'greatest his' from my chapbooks and similar themed/voiced poems.  It was a safe bet at the time.  I was 90% finished with a landscape meditations book I had been working on for a year or so.  I was completing it and was sending it off to Aldrich Press, who did in fact accept it for publication.  The advantage of this evil plan of mine was that most of the poems were already finished, already proofed and ready to go.  I would create  manuscript of older poems and I would be able to work on my landscape meditations book in random down time moments and not feel guilty about not writing anything new.  I was to distract my brain and subvert my usual pattern of anxiety and panic.  My plan was working, too.  

Well, I thought it was working, but a funny thing happened on the way to the trash can.  I began taking the fake manuscript seriously, actually investing energy and creativity above and beyond what I wanted.  I actually started to see real potential in this manuscript of mine, and my focus shifted to it rather than to writing new poems.  Oh, lots of false starts and attempts to return to previous and somewhat successful themes happened, but nothing solid, nothing which made me take notice.  I have accepted the direction my writing has taken over the past 20 years of my writing life.  I write in books rather than individual poems.  What I might think of as being individual poems mostly turn out to be poems which fit, at the furthest, on the periphery of book manuscripts.  

Over the course of the past 20 years I have become better at spotting the patterns and themes of my writing, which is of some comfort to me, but I have not ever lost the panic I experience between manuscripts, between creative bursts.  In 2005, my first chapbook was published.  I had been living with that manuscript for so long inside a black hole of an editor who refused to communicate, it was easy to move on and write more poetry.  I knew I needed to write more because the poems from that first chapbook were going to be the core of my first book.  Completing that first full length book and getting it accepted was six years in the making.  Ever since that long wait for publication, I have had a backlog of poems and manuscripts.  By the time the full length book came out in 2011, I had written two chapbooks worth of poetry, another full length manuscript , and begun another full length manuscript.  

Working on all of those books in such short order helped to alleviate the anxiety and panic, but having finished with all of that, I sat down and realized I was, with my landscape meditation book, simply gathering 14 years of work together.  I was writing very little new work specifically for the book.  Most of what I was doing was re-imagining work already completed.  Don't get me wrong.  I sincerely love the landscape meditations book.  I think it is some of my best, and certainly most mature work.  I just know it has been far too long since I have had any new ideas for a book, and as a result, I have begun to panic.  

Another chapter:  In 2012 some friends of mine started a band (Intra-Venus & the Cosmonauts) and they asked me to be their lyrical collaborator for songs and projects.  I was happy to oblige, and while I originally thought this might be a fun outing, I have since experienced quite the learning curve.  I think this is where some of my creative energy has gone, and with their first album coming out in December, I may have actually transferred my process into this timeline.  I might be waiting until the album is released before I release my brain to once again write.  They have asked me for more songs and I have a few ideas but yet to be able to follow through with any complete thoughts in the forms of song.

I am also teaching a creative writing class this year.  The class, I thought, would push me to write more, but it's a wash.  I am spending very little of my time writing poems of my own and a lot of time trying to get my students to leave the literal world behind.  It's a strange endeavor.  On the one hand the class is entirely voluntary, but on the other, I have to keep reminding myself they do not have the same priorities as I do when it comes to writing.  I spend a lot of energy trying to teach craft and creativity which instead of inspiring my own writing (what usually happens when I am busy) I find myself simply reading more.  Not a wasted endeavor at all, but I would like to be writing more, too.

That brings me full circle to the above poem and what I should do with it.  I feel an urgency to finish it, to make the attempt, but I have no earthly (or other) ideas as how to do that.  I don't know if I need to prune the poem, make it longer, re-write what I already have, or call it finished as is.  My usual ability to finish a first draft relatively fast is not with me right now, and that bothers me.  Usually, if a poem is going to fall apart on me it is going to happen much earlier in the process.  I have no clue and I don't like it at all.

I know a lot of what I am saying doesn't make sense and it feels like I lack gratitude for what I already have accomplished.  For that I am sorry.  I am merely trying to address my confusion.  I have never written a poem like this one and I am not sure of what I should make of it.  I know the draft is not finished and that's about all I know.  I hope the poem shows promise and I hope it does not fade away.  I'd like to see if it has the potential to outlast its current incarnation.

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