Friday, May 11, 2007

In the Midst of Life...

Keith at My Poor Fool is Hanged has a couple of evocative posts this week regarding poetry, critters, horror movies, family and experience. I gave a sort of response to the second post regarding nature and the deaths of animals. I'm still working toward a full response to his first post and what I read as his central question in it: What have you wanted to write but been unable to?

Faced with the question so simply put makes me realize that most of what I've wanted to write, most of what I've attempted to write has, in one way or another, failed or become something else entirely than I'd intended. The second sort of poem is its own pleasure...its own reward...I've gotten to a place I didn't expect, that I didn't account for, a sort of subconcious radar ping. The other sort-- the failures, the stillborns, the congenitally deformed ones are at best instructive. I've learned from them; held onto them; saved them for use later in some future frankenpoem.

I cherish those moments when I see something and get a poem. It's like the universe is giving me a little present. I remember the moment of insight/inspiration better than I remember drafting the poem itself. My two best poems are the second unexpected sort. There was the flash of insight, the desperate need to chronicle and explore those moments. One took 10 years to write--a simple poem about being shaved by another person--and went through god knows how many versions, revisions, forms and permutations that I honestly wondered if I ever would get it right, get it down, get it out of my system so I could go on to the next thing. The other poem--an elegy for my grandfather, witnessing his dying--was much more compressed in terms of writing time. Essentially that poem was there from the first draft--everything that is in its current state was there-- and a steady stream of revisions over a year or so got it to its final place. They have become my gold standard for successful poems--by whatever vagary of application, effort, skill or luck, they inhabit and enact their moments. They've also been the hardest to get past in terms of technique and style. I'm always leary of mannerism; being too dependent on one set of tricks; of becoming fossilized and a caricature. I don't want to write the same poem(s) repeatedly.

The new challenge for the summer is to take these old poems that are not so successful and revisit them--try to find a way to get back in and blow them up and put them back together in a way that feels vital and necessary. To get them under my skin and treat them like a fever.

Keith addresses the idea of seeing our own mortality in the deaths of animals. I responded in a comment that I didn't think it was necessarily true in my case: I grew up on a farm, we raised livestock for food; my cats and dogs have all practiced predation on various varmints. But now, I'm wondering. I've got a lot of dead animals showing up in poems--maybe I'm fooling myself.

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