Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, June 25, 2011

the fact of a wall

Something there is that doesn't love a wall, that wants it down...

Robert Frost's poems are filled with "stuff" like walls, fences, snow, trees, horse-drawn carriages, etc. He was a master observer of the ordinary who wrote in an extraordinary way about the minutia of our world. His eye was not only keen, but directly connected to a mind equally keen. His ability to take readers on a journey into their inner "stuff" by way of items we take for granted is an amazing gift to all of us.

I've been thinking since yesterday about a comment made by a woman at the reading I gave with 3 other authors (I was the only poet). She said in essence that she likes poetry because poets have such a command of language, vocabulary, and imagination to make some thing new and exciting out of the ordinary. She went on to say that she heard some of the "ways you said things" and thought to herself that she would never have looked at it that way. This is heartening to me as a writer, as a lover of words and images. I cannot recall the example she used, but it felt mighty good to hear her respond that way. Truly it is a "holy challenge" to make images come alive by using fresh language. I do spend more than just a little time on revision, looking for "the best way to say" what I am writing. I have a technique that works for me. Let me share.

After I have "gotten down" the first draft, I print it out and circle all the nouns (read: images), I underline all the verbs. Then I go back and fuss over each circled or underlined word, trying on other choices like pairs of shoes, waiting for the right fit, the most exciting or appropriate choice. I go back and compare how the poem then reads, line by line, checking to see what happens to meaning and what happens to impact. Then I do a further draft with lines and stanzas moved into different positions. Again with the reading for change and impact. Then I look one more time at line breaks and stanza breaks to see if end words are "engines" or sloggers. The final tweaking is for the little things: too many or unneeded articles? too many or useless adjectives? are there adverbs that are padding not adding to the poem?

Sometimes, I just hit a wall (the one that something doesn't like!) and have to get distance. I need a vacation from my own work. Luckily, I am rarely working on one poem at a time. I can put the clogged piece in a folder and forget about it for a while. Often the poem that is not working so well is a John-the-Baptist poem (making a way in the desert of my writing for THE ONE that is coming). The next thing I work on can be standing on the shoulders of the one that wasn't getting done today, waiting for its voice. Not often, NOTHING seems to be working. In that case what I need is a wall around the work and a game-changer.

I put on some Pink Floyd (I like "The Wall" by the way, no surprise!) and change my whole outlook.

Walls are so useful. Ain't it grand? Ayuh.

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