I’ve been revising some poems, which means while I trim and polish, I’m also kicking up dust, going deeper, a tricky term that doesn’t mean patching in meaning with words boasting an extravagant number of syllables that might be spoken in churches, temples, or lecture halls. To me, going deeper means working with a polishing cloth to get a clearer view of what the dust-raising reveals.
I often end a day, or month, or year, thinking I’m done, then go back with the clarity of distance and find an alarming number of opportunities to bring readers with me for a renewed sense of connection. For example in the verse novel I’m revising, I’d set a scene with an aunt and girl playing cat’s cradle. I’d wanted a simple linking task. But as I look closer, I see the patterns made by string that twists into new pictures, and will bring those out a bit, going beyond a game to fit my theme of transformations.
Good critique partners or editors may ask questions that lead us to looking again, looking longer, but I also pull out my own stock of questions as I head through another round. Looking over the shoulders of characters to the background can tease out meaning. What kind of light are they in, and does it change as they speak? What’s happening in the sky? What might they smell, and does that change? What’s the season? What shape spaces form between the characters? Is their conversation at odds with their surroundings?
Bringing in weather may make us think of the clichés such as, “It was a dark and stormy night.” But weather may lead us to something new in the way clover catches sunlight. Landscape changes with each observer, and when we put it into words. Most of us have stood with another, and seen something only when the other names what’s before our eyes. Not only what is now seen, but what we missed before, may offer a place to deepen. What made us or our character blink or duck?
Changed feelings alter what we see. Grief, for instance, may make our throats burn as we spot a child swinging a jump rope or a couple holding hands. We don’t need to name the ache or our sense of passing time, but can try to accurately convey the scene. We’ll never quite get it, but that’s all right. Part of the reader’s work is to fill in what was missed. We just want to turn them in the right direction, toward beauty that may seem slightly beyond grasp. We put into words what resists words, so it may be a ragged fit. Readers are not therapists, waiting for us to announce meaning. We want to invite them with us as we retrace our awkward steps and let meaning glimmer, peek, or elude in the same haphazard or slippery way it comes to us.
Some dust clouds are raised by clearing out information that gives away too much, put there because I need to know it, but when taken away might give the reader more places to enter, speculating, or even feeling suspense. Not my forte. I nudge characters closer to cliffs, though they are more often made of choices than rock and air.
Writing is like living, in which we often act, make choices, and the meaning appears only afterwards. It’s the mix of seeing, feeling, and questioning that deepens. We see something that touches us, in life or imagination, and probe: did that stir feeling because of some association? What colors, shape, or patterns seemed to touch us, and can we mirror that with words? We can try.
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