Saturday, July 19, 2014

Day 63: Narrowing Down


Boiled down 435 poems to 52 today.  And, as of right now, this will be the collection I'm thinking of going down in flames with.  Of course this is subject to change as time passes until the self imposed deadline I game myself of October 1st (a good two months away)

Is it a good collection?  I keep asking myself.  I spend my days off trying to figure out, with such limited amount of time, what is needed to be done to make a good collection.

And I do not know.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Day 52: Thoughts on "It's Simple, Really: Just Sit Down at the Desk . . ." by Jeff Gundy part 2

When steps are questions, then, I believe that there’s more thinking involved rather than action.  Such goes for step number

“6.  Other questions persist.  Are purity and clarity the goals, or delightful complexity?  Consistency or range (of effects, of language, of subjects)?  Shouldn’t I just give the whole thing up and build a new garage instead?”

I’m currently here.  July 6 was the date I wanted to compile things together.  I thought it would be easy, just sort through what I have published or have been recognized (32) and what I painfully decided were good poems (148) and then the collection would come together.  Nope.  This “coming together process” isn’t going as planned.  So much so that I’m going back to the poems that I put in the “maybe next time tier three poems (256)” to reevaluate my decisions. 

So now, my gut instinct is telling me to read all 435 poems, out loud, then sort them by strength, idea, connection.  I can’t build a garage, but I can just not put a collection together and just spend my time doing something more constructive, whatever that means.

“7. I fling myself on the mercy of friends and colleagues, ask for their advice about order, about what to leave in or throw out, etc.  As I keep telling my students, I’ve finally almost come to terms with the reality that I will never see everything there is to see about my own work.”

This is the step I’m probably the most nervous about.  I want to ask for help, but from whom?  I keep thinking about opinions and insight I trust about my own work, but then I realize that not a lot of people read my work currently (well the exception of my poetry analysis blog, even then, spam bots can’t give me great insight [great traffic though]).

The second part about coming to terms with never seeing my work – that’s the reason why I send out my work in the first place.  I try to make my poems interesting, but that doesn’t mean they’re good.  When I get rejected I think the poem is not from them, but when I get rejected 50 times in a row, then I think, perhaps, the poem cannot be salvaged as is and fine tuning isn’t enough.  The unknown drives me.

“8.   Titles are a particular problem.”

I loved the movie Shall We Dance? because of this one scene.  It’s when the main character, I salary man who lives a dull life, decides to enter a tournament.  As he is practicing with a partner, his instructor, a woman he has ambiguous feelings for, tells him the importance of the first step.  The instructor shows him, then he tries, putting his leg, with firmness, forward  pushing his body close to his dance partner.  The dance partner sighs and he lets go a bit flustered.  This was supposed to be a funny part in the movie, but I took away the idea of the first step – not only should impress the judges, but also elicit a reaction from a partner, a reader.

So this causes anxiety (as Harold Bloom would put it) with titles.  I’ve known many that do without and make the first line the title, perhaps for this reason.  If nothing else, I feel I could ask everyone about titles in general.  This may or may not be a problem.

“9.  Beginnings and endings, as we all know are crucial. […] I wonder whether a whole book of poems might not have affinities with a ceremony, a kind of service which would have many of the qualities of a public event to which people come in hopes of some kind of nourishment for their minds and spirits.”

What makes a good end.  Apocalypse anyone?  Salvation maybe?  For me, Gundy, goes these to extremes because readers tend to go to these extremes as well.  How many times do I hear people want a good book to shatter their perceptions or collect enough evidence to reaffirm beliefs.  The poem, “Small Night  Song from Oneonta”  that Jeff Gundy mentions is the last poem in his 2004 collection Deerflies is more of a salvation poem.  Yes, I can do an analysis of the poem, but, no, I won’t do so now. 

This idea of an end scares me.  Not because I’m afraid of endings, rather, I’m more fearful of writing the “right” end.  In my first iteration of my collection, I had my initial character die, there’s nothing more final than that, but looking back, I think the ending is more of a cop out, or worse, cliché.  There’s nothing more to add at that point, nothing really to think about since death (as the same with love, and maybe taxes) are concepts too embroiled with the conceptual to be anything more.  Nothing bad about that, but is there anything more?

“10.  The current batch, I’m convinced right now, is either a) by far the best set of poems I’ve ever written or b) negligible and doomed to eternal obscurity.  Maybe both.”

This is always the danger when hoping.  Time and work wasted.  As mentioned earlier, Jeff Gundy uses humor to vacillate between writing and the hopelessness of writing which follows to the final discussion of his life – the one that works as Chair of a Department, versus the lives of those who have time:

“When I read of those like Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall who gave up steady employment for free-lancing and spent hours of most days for years on end at their desks, I wonder what might have been, but this is the life I have chosen to live.”

Futility is one thing, but regret is another.  I know some who gave up on writing and are living their lives – marriage, kids, vacations, steadier employment (Facebook is a horrible thing that keeps track of everyone’s accomplishments) and I’m a bit jealous. 

Sure it’d be great to be in a relationship with steadier (higher pay) employment.  Spend my night dining out with friends instead of writing or spending time with a progeny for the sake of the parental joy.

But this was my father years ago, who “chose” to limit his time for dreams to raise a family and be there.  Every once in a while he’d say this to his children that he “gave up his dreams to support us”  and this idea, this sort of foreshadowed regret, is something I’d rather not deal with myself when it concerns writing.


I admitted to myself that I’ll eventually regret something, no kids or relationship or book or whatever my mind wants to torture me with.  But I’d rather try my best at one thing and tell myself (if I could believe myself) that I did my best to follow my dreams.  Unfortunately, I’m too fat now to be a world-famous stripper, so wherever writing takes me will have to do.


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Day 49: Thoughts on "It's Simple Really: Just Sit Down at the Desk . . . " by Jeff Gundy Part 1


"How do you catch the eye of a bored, underpaid, and probably inexperienced preliminary judge who's slogging through a heavy pile of manuscripts."  Again, not so much answers, but these essays in Ordering the Storm ask good questions that, for me, I'm thinking about while collecting my work together.

Process.  It seems, regardless of process. what it comes down is gate keeping.   Meh, I've known worse gate keeping things.  In any case, Jeff Gundy's essay is about his process from his first book, Inquiries, to his 1995 book, Flatlands:

"1.  Write poems for two or three or five years, sometimes with some sense of a common theme or thread holding them together, sometimes not.  These days I often write when I'm out of town, on my way to or from a reading or at a workshop, sometimes when I try out an assignment along with my students."

The first step seems easy enough, but this breaks and makes some people (a gate).  To be a writer, a writer has to write.

For me, I guess writing consistently is easier when I analyze a poem than me writing a poem.  The main reason why I stopped the whole question a day was because I was so far behind in writing.

But with that being stated, I wrote a lot of poems the last two years.  Good poems?  Good enough to get published? Who knows.

"2.  Put all the poems in a big pile.  OK, a middle-sized pile.  I usually do this too soon, before I have quite enough of the right kind of poems to make a book that's good enough or coherent enough.  But I'm impatient, and it's almost like having a new toy to play with."

Another gate.  Patience.  In every step.  I'm the biggest enemy to my own writing, but I'm the only one I trust.  So what to do then.  Once, I wanted to burn everything I written, now I'm trying to motivate myself to compile a collection.

Note though this isn't the "not writing" type of patience.  This is the "writing / editing" phase patience.  Thinking about writing versus getting it on the page are two different things.



"3.  Spend numerous hours, scattered over weeks or months or years, sifting through the poems, making piles, arranging and rearranging.  Discover that there appears to be both too much and too little order in the poems: some seem mere echoes of each other, other have very little to do with the rest."

Patience is one thing.  Time to discover is another.  All the time in the world doesn't mean I'll discover something.  It's the mindset of the search rather than stating answers.  But the danger in the search is either looking too specific and overlooking something or not hard enough and then losing focus. 


"4. Very gradually being to puzzle out some kind of plausible order [...]"

Here's the thing about order -- narrative?  Strong poem first?  How much needs to be published.  It seems to Jeff Gundy, the most important part is connection:

"And yesterday, rooting around around in old files, I found two nearly forgotten poems that I published in magazines many years ago but never included in a book.  They seemed to have uncanny resonances with some current poems, so I printed them out and am trying to figure out if they really belong."

From this, I'm thinking on how sacred publications are.  Some?  Many?  All published poems in the book.  We'll see.

"5.  My internal ranking of them [poems] fluctuates wildly.  But gradually a handful come to seem like anchors for the rest [...] So I rely on intuition, guesswork, obscure senses of possible sublimity."

I wonder how one creates a sense of ranking.  Or rather, how did I come up with my rankings.  Yes, by reading and comprehending.  I think this number is the most important -- I think at this point, once the fluctuations becomes stable, it's a huge step to sending out.