Monday, June 30, 2014

Day 44: Thoughts on "Best Foot Forward: Arranging a Poetry Manuscript" by Bonnie Jacobson

This essay weaves together different collection structures and interweaves them with Bonnie Jacobson's experience of making the collection, "In Joanna's House."  The essay is separated in V parts.  However, the most relevant part of the essay was Part III.

But to get to part III, first the author goes through the structural techniques of six collections and how they are structured in Part I:

  1. Mary Oliver -- Twelve Moons (The structuring device revolving around "moon poems")
  2. Peter Kappert -- The Idiot Princess of the Last Dynasty (A 205 dramatic monologue)
  3. John Ashbery --  Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (34 poems of build up about "artifice, experience, and time" which leads to the centerpiece poem "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror" which comments on all of them)
  4. William Stafford -- A Glace Face in the Rain (divided into five sections -- each section named and placed accordingly to order)
  5. John Donoghue -- Precipice (irregular sonnets in five sections)
  6. Sharon Old -- The Father (narrative about the death of the father and the aftermath)
Then in Part II, the speaker talks about finding a voice -- maybe through publication, maybe through lot's of work.  Or "listening ten years to a narrator and characters who won't leave you alone).  There's no firm stance on creating "your own voice" but there's one thing that's for certain, "take it all to a friend whose editorial judgement, like Pound's, is without peer and mercy."

What interests me about Part III is the connection between the speaker and her editor, Robert Wallace.  Part III is a narrative on how Robert Wallace decided to change the original placement of the end poem of "In Joanna's House" about her death to the beginning, the prologue:

Think about it, Bob said, If in the prologue you present the terrible finality of Joanna, then doesn't every one of her poems argue against that finality?  Isn't Joanna's life--and by extension anyone's life--a unique and irreplaceable influence?

then from this:

Bob found the mega-poem for Joanna in less than an hour, if you leave out my fretting.  How did he do it?  How does anyone do it?

Why does this interest me?  Objectivity.  This essay does explain this idea further, but it's the idea that, no matter what, the author is not able to directly find the strongest "mega-poem" is terrifying and a relief.  Terrifying since I would like to believe that I can work out my weaknesses, but, honestly, how would I know my weaknesses if they aren't tested.  A relief since there are plenty of people out there willing to state what I'm weak at -- hopefully.

Part IV talks about the process and how poets never intend to write a book, just poems.  Jacobson quotes and Olds interview, "I don't write books.  I just write poems.  And then I put together books."  Sure, process is more subjective and based on individual style.

Part V is about titles -- write something that entices but doesn't trap.  Here another anecdote between Jacobson and Wallace who recommend the title be The Joanna Poems, "this cannonization fell oddly pretentious, unJoannalike.  In Joanna's House seemed to me a better description of her situation."

Ultimately, the search cannot be directed as implied by the post script.  A poem shouldn't be written with "the planning stages" in mind, rather, just write poems and collect them when things feel right.  Have someone read them after you believe you've done as much as you can.  There could be better insights.  There could be no insights, but more questions.  

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