Posted by: jeannineatkins | December 13, 2013

Poetry and Houses

Writing a verse novel based in history begins with an idea of a time, place, and person I want to inhabit for some time. I research, taking breaks to mull, write ideas for scenes, jot down images to linger with and toss about. Sometimes I find a phrase or line I expect will stay instead of fade into the necessary background. I’ve moved on from most research on my current project, composed some rough poems, patted down lines, and gotten down on my knees to arrange and rearrange them into something I call plot, trying not to choke on the word with its history of personal failure. I prefer to think of this work as Colored Pencil Days. I made a list of questions my main character is asking, and where she gets stymied, and where at last she charges through. I’m happy enough with my order, which will shift.

After laying all these bricks, I’m looking forward to batting some out, cracking the cement. Of course even during this brick laying stage, I’ve had my reverie-ish moments, or why not write straight nonfiction?  Now when I have my base, I want to kick a few cracks in the foundation and see how much fancy I can get away with, while still keeping readers who will care about science and history. There will be rubble and bruised toes and maybe a logjam. But I’m going to try to this with bare feet, because it’s time to feel the cold, the grit, and maybe something soft as grass. I want to make sure that every word is alive and awake, which means it can be changed. The walls breaking down, the layers peeling, has an instructive movement all its own. Nothing must be held too tightly.

Figuring out the plot is to take the long view, while this kind of revising calls for the kind of tenderness we feel when something is close enough to touch. I’ll toss each poem into the air and see what scatters, and what I can gently wrangle into new holes. Then it will be time again to stand up straight, put my boots back on, look up, and make sure I have a house.

 For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit Tabatha Yeatts: The Opposite of Indifference.

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Responses

  1. Glorious! I love “choke on the word” plot.

    • Honey, I’ve seen you choke out that word. But we will manage our exposition-climax-resolution anxieties!

  2. I’ve been on my knees with verse novels myself–it’s the only way to see the arc (or lack of one). While I am very curious about your subject (which you will reveal when you are ready), I am about to peel away layers of plaster from my own (long-neglected) project. Each time I went to the book, I slapped on anotyher coat in the hopes to deepen. Somewhere along the way I can’t find the original wall. Nothing *must* be held too tightly. I’ll be barefooted, as we say, along with you.

    • Barefoot is good, but I think we can use pillows for our knees as we arc-hunt. Who knew writing can be yoga, too? I’m glad you’re going back and am sure the deepening is happening.

  3. I admire that you can keep so many balls in the air at once-might be trying at times, but exhilarating too! Love this: “I want to make sure that every word is alive and awake, which means it can be changed.” Good to contemplate!

    • Did I say I keep all in the balls in the air? Mostly I fling them. But thank you for finding something to contemplate, Linda!

  4. “Nothing must be held too tightly.” <- That's the scary part for me… it's kind of like building a house of cards.

    • Yes, I think we have to be willing to watch the cards fall, then stack them again, and try to have a bit of fun doing that. Eventually we do find something to stick. Good luck!

  5. I like “Colored Pencil Days” — it sounds light-hearted, creative, do-able. I’m enjoying reading your book of writing essays, btw.

    • I just got up from my sore knees and scattered colored pencils, drawing arcs and arrows, to read this. Thank you for telling me you’re enjoying my book, Tabatha! That means a lot to me.

  6. I am intrigued by this process. I’ve put my wip aside for the moment, I think I need bit of distance. I’m having quite the challenge in separating myself from the “facts” to find the story. Yep, choking on the word plot. I will come back to it, though.

    • I agree distance and time help to move away from the facts to find the arc within them. It’s good to switch up long and short views. I hope and expect that when you come back to it, or just wake up one morning, or get out of the shower, after thinking about something entirely different, you’ll know what you need to do. I am wishing you that kind of luck!


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