Unexpected Drafts and Good Mail Days

My mailbox runneth over
I know this might come as a shocker, but we had another enormous snowstorm this week. I will spare you the photos.  I have way too many photos of enormous snowstorms this year.

But on the bright side of the enormous snowstorm was the unexpected writing time it gave me on Monday.  Our company had gone, Husband took the children for long overdue hair cuts, and my writing group was cancelled due to the weather (You might ask here whether or not it was prudent for Husband to be taking the children for hair cuts in that weather.  It's his department, and that's all I'm sayin'.)

I had a short-ish window of time and two titles that had been circling in my head.  One was "Household Tales."  It just seems to me I should have a poem called this, both because many of my poems are household tales, and because I think a lot about the stories families tell, and (perhaps more importantly) the stories families don't tell.  It's an evocative title for me because it's the latter half of the Grimm's brothers' title: Children's and Household Tales.  The second title came from an e-mail I sent a po-friend, subject line: revision and aubade.  I dunno, the phrase kept swimming back to me and I liked the idea of writing revision into a poem.  So, two titles, a short window, I went for it.

But skipped an all-important step: reading good poetry first.  I always read good poetry before I write, but feeling crunched for time, I went straight to writing.  Is this the reason the drafts came so hard, or am I just suspicious?

Yes, the drafts came hard.  "Household Tales" is a collection of family stories -- some real and some imagined -- and has several stanzas beginning with a variation of "The one where... ."  After I drafted the poem and looked at it on paper I knew it had to be a poem in sections, and needs more vivid images and lyric moments, and probably less "the one where."  I am already working on chunking it up and re-imagining.

"Revision and Aubade" was fun to write, though not easy.  The fun part was the circling back to revise what was said before:  "What I meant to say is" and "I've forgotten everything" then "I remember when you..." then, "Or was it me, yes... ."  The not-easy part is stringing together the images and connective tissue in a way that the circling back works for a purpose.

And now you know what I've been up nights thinking about this week.

Anyway, both of these drafts feel important to me, but neither flew down the page in a rapturous burst of creativity.  If these drafts are to become poems, the I will have to revise my way into them.  There was a time in my writing life when I would have hidden from such drafts.  They would go to the Resting Drawer for their eternal rest.  I am determined not to hide from these two drafts.  I am determined to plod through revisions, to make these drafts into poems.  Do you hear me Universe!?

And I am determined to always read good poetry before I write.  I am determined not to skip this step ever again.  Amen.

As for the good mail, waiting for me are three volumes I'm very much looking forward to, mostly.  Poets&Writers is a magazine for, um, poets and writers.  It comes out every two months, and at the end of each two-month window I find myself wondering what happened to my P&W?  Did I let my subscription lapse?  Did it come, but I missed it in the jumble that is family life?  I do my P&W freak out routine, and then it comes in the next days' mail.  (BTW, I also did this with sleep deprivation: held out for many, many, many months, broke down completely one night crying and sobbing on Husband's shoulder about how I couldn't take it anymore, baby -- toddler actually-- started sleeping through the night the very next night.)  I love P&W because it makes me feel connected to the writing world, has really good pieces on writing craft and the writing life, and is a source for calls-for-submissions and new books to read.  Sometimes when I read it I feel ensconced in a world I belong in; other times I feel like there is this great big writing world out there and I understand about one 1-zillionth of it.  Hopefully it's the most important 1-zillionth: put the time in reading, writing and revising.

Next is a book I've seen reviewed on a few po-blogs, The Working Poet: 75 Writing Exercises and a Poetry Anthology edited by Scott Minar.  Those of you who have been reading a while know that I've been working my way through Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem by Wendy Bishop.  I was ready for a little change, so I tracked down a used copy of this book to try.  Wouldn't you know in the introduction Scott Minar writes, "I tell my students not to begin drafting a poem unless they have read some great poetry first."  Right on.  Also, on page 15: The Nest Poem, an exercise for assembling "a poem of many shorter pieces associated through a larger theme."  Just in time, thanks.

And last, a book arrived from points west from a new po-friend, a complete surprise: Jennifer Richter's Threshold.  The po-friend wrote that she had been reading it and kept thinking of me.  I peeked inside to see why.  Motherhood, illness, sweet-and-sharp intermingling of joy and pain.  I am both excited and afraid to read it.  Excited because the sneak-peek poems were really good, and I think I can learn from this book.  Afraid because I sometimes read a poem or a book that makes me think, Well, I'll never top that so I might as well hang it up now.  Rilke, for example, has this effect on me.  Of course, I know I won't hang it up and can't, so I might as well read and learn, and then go write my poems which nobody has written yet.


Gerry said...

Well that makes me feel better. I went to the library today and ran across a little book that struck me as, well, having already done what I'm trying to do, which is upsetting enough, but then on top of it . . . no one had ever taken the little book out. So then I sat down in the library and gave it a good look and decided that, well, no, it wasn't "my" book and I'm going to keep on with that, but I'm still depressed that no one ever took it out. I'll get over it. I'm going to go take a nap in my resting drawer.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for the description of the process. Sorry it was hard today. I completely understand about sometimes feeling rushed and skipping important steps. I'm intrigued by the descriptions of the two poems!

I haven't gotten my P&W yet. I go through the same cycle as well.

Stephanie said...

I love the attention paid to the fact that no one has written your poems yet.

Molly said...

Gerry, it's always a bad feeling when you think "your" book has already been written. I'm glad it wasn't your book. If it will make you feel better, I will check it out this summer and read it, so long as I can sit on the library's porch while I do it. Wow... I wish I had a nap size resting drawer :).

Sandy, always comforting to know I'm not alone in my small faults and quirks. I'm sure your P&W will be in today's mail.

Stephanie, some days I believe it more than others, but I keep telling myself: only I can write my poems. And, of course, you yours. And so on down the line. Go Poets!

Thank you all for reading.