As I try to arrange bad poems, not-quite-there poems, and almost-poems, I’m still thinking about issues I wrote in my post last Friday about balancing verse and story to fit in one book set in the past. Now instead of replacing words to see if I can unlock images, I’m looking at the big picture. I printed out a sixty page draft of one section, and am drawing bold lines between poems which must also be scenes. Do I sense some muscle behind a pretty enough complexion? When I set chopped-apart pages on the floor to walk around, can I imagine being ankle-deep in the river and feeling the current? Can I conjure a bout of Herculean strength, enough to twist around the river?
Emailing a friend about her attempt to impose some plot on a quiet story, I questioned whether plot is the best word to use, even though I believe I’d been the one to bring it up. Some of us who’ve been labeled “quiet” can tend to take on the role of being plot-challenged, when we might better think about pacing: are there places that sag, that can be cut for perhaps less detail but more adventure? Spending a long time on something, we can forget that readers may not need to know what we know, so I consider snatching back what one draft carefully set forward. I’m not writing an action packed novel, but within my chosen scale, there must be movement, something like the sound of brisk footsteps or turning pages. There must be feeling, and often it can get ramped up. I peer into what I’d gently set out happening, then lean back and ask: Wouldn’t my character be angry here? Could perhaps something be flung through the air? Or is it time to leap or twirl? It’s great to all objective-correlative-y and let things stand for feelings, but sometimes we want a wail or a whoop.
I get out my scissors again to clip pages and look for spaces that happily end with suspense, and leave them be. I say goodbye to description that seems indulgent, trading detail for a swifter pace. Where can my character and readers be surprised? What wrong turns can I add in? How can I put a sense of mystery into a life now that I have a draft and know where people are going?
There’s some fun, especially when I play with different colors of ink to orchestrate themes. It’s important to ask: What happens here? What’s the impact and feeling? But once I’ve got a structure, I invite the poet back. Now I sit with those places where I jotted down, “needs more mysterious phrasing,” or more succinctly, “bleh.” I settle in with each rough poem, holding each like a cocoon, and wait to see what will break out.
Today at Live Your Poem … I’m elated that Irene Latham talks about my new book, Views from a Window Seat: Thoughts on Writing and Life and quotes me on my experience self publishing, which I’ll write more about here next week. She’s also generously offering a chance to win a copy, just by leaving a comment by midnight tomorrow, so please head on over!
And please visit my dear friend Jama at Alphabet Soup, where she’s not only hosting Poetry Friday, with a recipe for apple pumpkin muffins, but wrote a lovely tribute to my book. Do I love our blogging community? Yes, I do.