Posted by: jeannineatkins | July 16, 2010

Stuff and Silence

My husband has been looking for a single treasured photo that has disappeared from albums and piles. And there are lots of piles here. As part of the searching, he’s realized how little in those stacks and shelves he needs or wants, and trash bags are filled, boxes set aside for fund-raiser tag sales.

It’s something like the kind of researching I do before or while writing poems based in history. I look through a lot, then put most aside, while searching for just the right image. Lots of the bric brac, forgotten postcards, aging boxes of crackers, worn-down shoes, the never-used crock pot, plastic triceratops, books beloved in college but not since can go. But as I sift through the details of a life I put my hands, so to speak, on some things that smell, so to speak, like the stuff of the soul. Framing these flounced dresses, crocus, and barley syrup with silence, putting them at the end of a line or stanza, can suggest something below the surface. It’s a question of choosing just the right objects, and cutting away the rest.

Finding these takes time and elements of mystery. When we attack a table, bureau, or closet, it looks like more of a mess before things have found new places in bags, boxes, or drawers. And I’m making more clutter, even longer paragraphs, new pages of fragments and run-ons, as I revise a narrative into poems. I’m writing and even revising new lines that will be cut. But more and more, what started out as probable poems are turning into unpolished poems. I’m even having a little fun.

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  1. Isn’t it funny how sometimes it’s not the Big Things that sing to you, but the very, very small? They are the things, I think, that make people feel human and real. I could be wrong, but it feels that way to me. And, I suspect, to you as well.

  2. Linda K. (Write Time)

    Thanks for the insight into your writing process. It’s always so helpful for me to read about how the others go about creating their poems.

  3. from Laura @AuthorAmok

    Hi, Jeannine. This is so true. I love showing students the progression of a poem. What starts with a 4-8 line idea often becomes a mess of arrows, scratch-outs, and notes to self in the second draft.

  4. I don’t think either of us is wrong, Kelly! I absolutely believe in the power of small things. Like a pair of Jane Austen’s gloves, the heel of one of her slippers: swoon.

  5. Re: Linda K. (Write Time)

    I, too, like reading about the process of others. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Re: from Laura @AuthorAmok

    Oh, the second draft, the seventeenth draft…. it’s good we like the process!

  7. Your metaphor-making skills never fail to impress. I am still holding out hope that the treasured photo in question will someday turn up in one of our (well, mostly my) piles, but even though I feel the truth is more likely that I accidentally threw it out (bangs head against nearest wall), somehow what you’ve written here makes me feel more at peace about it. — PL

  8. I love your blog.

  9. Thanks, Toby! I’m running out of things to say about cutting and trimming and slashing, which is most of my life these days, though! Hope your writing is going well.

  10. I love sorting through stuff and reliving the memories triggered by each object or photo. It’s amazing how much we forget as life goes along – how much is stored in piles and boxes in the corner of our cluttered minds.

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