This is not the book you’re looking for

So, I have a draft of a poetry collection. I had put it together to submit to a contest with an immovable deadline. [Outcome: I am not a Yale Younger Poet.] Even though the timing wasn’t right and I didn’t have enough good material, I worked hard on the shape of that potential book.

And now I realize I have to throw it out and start over.

Because the way I actually write does not match up to the way I wanted to write. The structure, which I put together like an elaborate puzzle? Was not organic to the things I actually write about. The book I had in my head is not the book I’m going to end up with.

 

New possible sections for a collection of poems:

Part I.  Angry poems, with hints of social criticism.

Part II.  Depressed poems, with overuse of winter tropes.

Part III.  Poems in which I come to terms with anger and depression and reach something as close to zen enlightenment as I’m capable of. Overuse of fall and spring tropes.

Part IV. [END BOOK BEFORE SAPPINESS SETS IN.]

 

Yeah, I think I’ve got this nailed down. This time.

Poetry Grind #2 Update

(Read about Poetry Grind #1 here.)

Poetry Grind #2 is in progress, instigated once again by the amazing K.T. Landon! This time we have 9 members; some of us are the same as last time and some are different.

It’s… different. I’m having a harder time generating new stuff. I think that’s just… life, honestly. A lot more static interfering with the signal.

On the other side of that, I’ve been using the grind as motivation to go back to older stuff that needs revising. Like, neeeeeeeds revising. Or needs to be summarily DELETED.

Do you ever just delete old work? I was always like “Save All The Things!” But in the process of moving house, I  ended up donating and throwing away bags and bags of stuff. It was easier than I thought it would be. And it was a shock to the system that I’m still recovering from, but that I needed. So now I’m doing the same thing with old drafts that never went anywhere. If there are one or two good lines in a draft, I copy/paste them into an “inspiration” document, then delete the rest.

I think the reason this works for me is that when I re-read things I don’t like, I have a really strong emotional reaction to it. I can’t stand the self-indulgence and pretentiousness. It makes me depressed and irritated. And since I’ve been keeping a journal for [redacted] years, it’s not like I don’t have those same thoughts written down somewhere else.

So I’m kind of feeling less precious about every single piece of writing.

 

detail

 

Some art stuff

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Life gets increasingly complicated over time. I tend to take on multiple little projects, and since I have a day job, I sometimes have to cull my activities so I can refocus on writing.

So thank you to the friend who suggested I should have a crafting room in my new place. I had been thinking of it as a writing room, but it should be more.

Over the years I have undertaken a lot of amateur art projects. Lithographs and artist’s books, pottery and collaged valentines. I like to lose objectivity in the embroidery floss aisle at the fabric store. I have a mild obsession with sewing handbags. For several months, I kept a florid visual journal using colored pencils. I used to take weird Polaroid photographs for kicks (good times, good times). I’m not saying I’m good at any of these things – that’s really not the point – just that part of valuing creativity is that the creative thing tends to leak out everywhere. Packing and moving the detritus of all these projects (or, when I was desperate and out of time, throwing them in the dumpster) forced me to think about the nature of art-making.

And this is my conclusion: art is essentially – well, disposable isn’t the right word – let’s say in transit. It passes from me and out to the world. I don’t mean that the product is worthless. My nephew wore the bracelets until they fell apart, my friends seem to love their valentines (thanks for humoring me, guys!), and somebody at the Goodwill store is going to be happy to discover that bag I made out of batik turtle fabric (uh, I hope). And yes, my mom still keeps all my pottery.

But art, the product, has meaning as we give it away.* It starts life inside us, but it’s really complete when it’s gone into someone else’s head and rearranged things a little.

 

* Or sell it, if you’re a professional.

The Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to K.T. Landon for tagging me in the Writing Process Blog Tour! Here we go.

 

What are you working on?  

1. The first draft of this post. It was lengthy and pretentious, so I deleted it.

2. a. Unpacking.

2. b. My current journal is an all-white Moleskine, to inspire me to be a minimalist. (So far I’m not inspired to declutter, but I’m very inspired to complain about decluttering.)

2. c. Praying to Hermes, god of communication, that Verizon fixes my internet before Poetry Grind #2 starts on Monday.

3. I was in a boring day-long meeting, so I wrote a poem about spiders and whether or not to kill them.

 

How does your work differ from others of its genre?  

I don’t really want to answer this question. Does anyone really want to answer this question? Don’t we all think we’re in a category all our own?

My thing is, I loved studying the arts in college, but my experience of the academy was that it was a lot easier to take something apart than it was to put it together, and that the two practices – both worthy – required utterly different mindsets. So I try not to let “comparison sickness” creep into my thinking about writing. If I read a lot of Milosz, I start to sound like Milosz. But eventually I just write like me again. I’m inescapable. And the only way I can define myself better is to keep evolving.

 

Why do you write what you do?  

I have such nifty, clever ideas about what to write poems about… and instead I write about what I keep stumbling over.

I keep stumbling over approximately 40 boxes of packed books, so I’m thinking a lot about their relation to life as a writer. The carefully packed boxes from ten years ago, labeled with their exact locations on the shelves – “upper right,” “lower left,” “poetry.” (It’s kind of cute how organized I was.) The new boxes I packed more haphazardly – the books signed by my dad; the book with an ancestor’s inscription and a crumbling spine; that weird little book about wabi-sabi that I keep re-reading the first half of.  

I was a better packer in my 30s, but a worse writer. I wanted everything to be finished, to be polished off. I’d labor over one poem crankily, obsessively – open with a good idea but manage to strip away every spontaneous thought, every strange locution, until it became a hollowed-out version of what a poem should be: all the parts, no heart.

And I think about how I could easily fill up my bookcases with the books I already have. But how I need my bookshelves to not be full. They can’t just be proof of where I’ve been. The poet can’t ever think she is finished. She has to keep some open space. I try not to become too rigid, too aligned, and too full of my own history and my own certainties.

I didn’t answer the question… I think the point is, I’ll probably throw away the poem about the spiders and find it was just a way for me to get to my real topic.

 

How does your writing process work?

I keep a journal, full of unrestrained self-pity. I cherish it as proof that I got through each day. And sometimes it also functions as a first draft.

Sometimes I decide I’ll write one poem each night, which is a great way to be productive, but not as good as…

…I’ve done one month-long poetry grind, which is an incredible way to be productive.

I used to think I could only compose on paper, but the grind taught me that I can also write first drafts on a laptop, and that I can let go of things, and be looser. You never know when you’ll get to the good stuff, so the key is to just keep writing.

I like it when other people participate in the same project because it alleviates my existential suffering.

 

So that’s all there is to say about me… My nominees for The Writing Creative Process Blog Tour:

Sarah Hand is a paper mache & mixed media artist and teacher. Exploring and spreading wonder and making stuff keeps her going. She lives with her husband and unruly cats in Richmond, Virginia.

Julia L. Mayer has been a Philadelphia area psychologist, specializing in women’s identity and relationship issues for over twenty years. She’s worked with numerous young women struggling with bad boyfriend issues.