Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 6, 2010

Getting There: From Prose to Poems

I’m not saying that everyone should write a novel, tear it apart, and look for moments that might work for the centers or ends of poems. I’m not even saying I ever hope to do this again, though I won’t swear I never will. But after spending much of June complaining about ripping apart sentences and chucking out paragraphs and pages, I want to say I’m now at peace with the process. I’ve found some images that might stand for two or three things, and have tried propping them up against each other to see what can be stirred: they say two sticks can make a flame. I’ve enjoyed some mornings thinking about what’s worth keeping in what once was a story, and I’ll still keep a narrative arc, though one that moves through small upheavals within poems. I’ve managed to find some moments that seem both common and extraordinary and places where I hear echoes, and am working on ways to suggest them without pointing my finger.

I’m back asking those questions that engaged me when I wrote Borrowed Names: what’s too much and what’s too little? How many birds can I get away with, and how can I make each wing or feather seem distinct? How much alliteration, which I’m so fond of, is pleasant, and how much is wrong? Soon I’ll be showing probable poems to the three people in my writing group, and x-ing out or trying again lines where Bruce, who values what’s clear, leaves question marks. Maybe bulking up spots where Dina gives me her coveted quiet nod (yes, I can see that through her pen.) And let’s not forget Lisa, who writes, “this is great,” which I’m glad to hear, even though I think um, no, at least not yet.

As with so much of writing, there’s more stumbling than a steady sense that I can move from A to B to C. But as I go along, the ground feels less shaky and I feel more confident that I can make it through a bumpy middle to an end. I’ve stopped complaining, well, mostly. Losing, then getting my grip again on a faith that something tiny, tangible, and humble can whisper a story. From something small, new life comes.

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit Laura Shovan’s blog at: http://authoramok.blogspot.com/

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Responses

  1. And once past that bumpy middle, with all its forks and potholes and unreliable road signs, you will see small towns in the distance, and you will arrive safely.

    Enjoy your weekend, Jeannine.

  2. Another beautiful post! Thank you for sharing! Just what I needed this morning! xo

  3. I love alliteration too. I’m pretty sure that I overdo it every now and again.

  4. from Laura @AuthorAmok

    You’re speaking to what makes writing poems a joy and a struggle — the focus on each individual word. I love the idea of “small upheavals within poems.” Can’t wait to hear more about your project, Jeannine!

  5. Revision

    You are a GREAT example to authors about evaluation and tweaking. I love how you constantly search for THE perfect word…even when you are reading it aloud to a group. The image of you making tic marks on your poem while you were reading is indelibly imprinted in my mind!

  6. Small towns in the distance! Safety! Maybe even small fires? Thanks for the blessing, Toby!

  7. You needed this and cookies, yes? Enjoy your weekend, Debbi. See you at the computer on Monday!

  8. Okay, we’ll have to be each other’s alliteration alert watchers! I just always check to make sure I’m not sacrificing meaning for some pretty sound.

  9. Re: from Laura @AuthorAmok

    Thanks, Laura!

  10. Re: Revision

    Thank you, Marjorie. Me twisting my mouth, hardly able to believe I wrote/read the words I’m crossing out. Yes, there’s revision in progress. Which can be done only among people you trust and adore.

  11. What a lovely post! I’m intrigued by your process – are you taking a project you wrote as a novel and recasting it into poems? If so, was that the goal from the start, or something you decided on after the fact? (And if that’s the case, do you have a permanent dent in your forehead from striking it on the edge of your desk repeatedly?)

  12. I am turning a novel into poems, and am glad you didn’t hear the banging head from all those miles away. It was an editorial suggestion. I said but… but.. but.. then your Shakespeare-poetry-inspiring muse said: I’d give anything for an editor to ask me to send poems, and I stopped complaining and got to work.

    Though I still rub the head-dent you mentioned.

  13. I’d give anything for an editor to ask me to send poems.

    Exactly.

    I’m not surprised to hear about the dent, however.

  14. No wonder you’ve been feeling daunted! It takes a lot of courage (and a certain amount of heart-wringing) to re-envision a story so completely.

    From something small, new life comes.

    Yes.

  15. Thanks, Amy. I’m so happy to report the dauntingness is getting smaller and the rewards sneaking into sight.


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