The Writing Blues

Aidan at work on his magnum opus.

My children are ever so much more productively writing than I am. Vincent’s discovering the discoveries and challenges of reading and writing, and Aidan is doggedly working on his own mysterious pages.

I, on the other hand, have written exactly two poems since my mother died. That Salamander will be publishing one of them in their next issue is some consolation, but I’m feeling the pull and tug of the writing bug.

After Aidan was born, I buckled down and wrote a poem a week, and kept at it consistently, for a long time. Not all were worth keeping or working on, but the regularity of effort kept my mind chugging.

But now, sometimes, a lot of times, I just feel stymied. What to say that’s not about my mother and how intensely I miss her? (Which is responsible for the silences here as well.)

I’ve reached that stage where I’m weary of talking about my grief. I miss her. It hurts. Nothing helps, nothing will help, because she’s not coming back. Emotionally I accept that, but I’m just bored with myself.

I’m not unaware of my life’s many blessings, not least of which is a plenitude of love, my dear family, this unexpected gift of a new child in the spring.

I’m also grateful that I live a life saturated in literature: Tupelo Press, the Collected Poets Series, the support and love of poet friends — it’s a financially precarious life, but I love it and am thankful for it.

Which is to say, I love my life. To paraphrase the film, “Super 8,” (which I also loved), bad things happen, but I can go on. I can live, and can live happily.

I guess I’m just trying to find a way to write about this abiding sadness that doesn’t feel maudlin or self-indulgent or tedious. It’s one thing to bore myself; it’s unforgivable to bore others.

Draft of the Week, #16

Considering all my whining about time and the lack of it, you might be wondering how goes the writing? In fits and starts. I’ve managed to write two drafts so far this month, which is a nice return to form, and only one of which caused agony and gnashing of teeth.

Because it was a frustrating week of drafting that poem, a few lines a day. Not for lack of having the words, but the opportunity to work on them. The heat, humidity, general malaise…for whatever reason, my boys would not leave me alone for more than a second at a time. I’d have hid out in the bathroom if that would’ve guaranteed me some time alone. But don’t be silly — for mums of small children, solitary bathroom use is a fantasy.

By the end of that week, I was fairly frothing with pent-up angst. Then the heat snap broke and I stayed up even later than usual (because I habitually sacrifice sleep to reading/writing time — I’m delirious with fatigue even as I type) to hash out this poem. The lines were now written, but I wasn’t happy with their form on the page. Writing it piecemeal, it had come out in tercets, but tercets tend to be my go-to form, so looking at the lines and poem length, I thought I’d break it up even further and try couplets. But that didn’t work — the poem felt too aerated and strung out. Then I noticed that the poem’s turn occurred at the exact center of poem. Exact. Which was interesting for a poem about the centers of things. Which led me to split the poem into two stichic stanzas of equal length. I was so pleased with the result that I’ve already submitted it — a quicker sending-out-into-the-world for this poem, but I’d spent so much time thinking about it, more time even than I spent physically writing it, it felt done — so no draft for you to read this time, I’m afraid.

I have to admit that editors and their stricter submission guidelines have me rethinking my posting of drafts, anyway. I’m considering taking a page from Sandy’s book and, instead of temporarily posting a draft, sharing process notes like this with just a few choice lines. The advantages are that I won’t put a poem out of the running for a journal I harbor aspirations to appear in (how’s that for torturous syntax!), and I won’t have to (remember to) delete the excerpted lines; they can stay forever!

Draft of the Week, #15

If I’m going to participate in NaPoWriMo this year, which is by no means assured, then I may have to stop writing for March and begin working on a game plan. But that’s another post.

Today’s poem used some words from a wordle ReadWritePoem prompt. Only some words. But they were a big help in narrowing my focus, so my thanks to them for another solid challenge.

As usual, this will stay up for a short time only. Any & all comments are welcome.

{poof!}

Draft of the Week, #14: Part III

NEW YORKER illustration from review of WORDS IN AIR.

Writing this last cento using poems by both Lowell and Bishop was the most gratifying of work. Putting their voices, these two poets who were such good friends, in direct dialogue with each other gradually took on more and more significance for me. It feels like a Valentine of sorts.

Thanks again to Carolee and Jill over at ReadWritePoem for the cento education!

This’ll come down in a couple days. Hope your Valentine brings you chocolate.

{poof!}

Draft of the Week, #14: Part II

North & south by Elizabeth BishopI find writing centos a very absorbing process. I’m a crossword puzzle fiend thanks to my former bookstore boss, so drafting centos definitely appeals to that part of my brain. And I can see where working with centos could inspire you and get you started on a poem entirely your own.

But what’s better, centos really focus you on all the smaller moving parts of a poem. It’s like taking apart that engine in shop class to see how it works, and then putting it all back together, only now you’re the engineer and can design a whole new machine.

And working with single-poet centos forces you to engage with his/her poems in a completely unfamiliar and illuminating way. Recurring themes, word choice patterns, images, even something as basic as blocks of syntax — you live within the poems more through your study of them.

I feel particularly conscious of this because of my Lowell/Bishop reading project. As much as I felt they differed when I began is how much I can see now that they share. It’s misleading at first because Lowell wrote so much, and his style and concerns changed much more than Bishop’s over the years. I found writing my Bishop cento initially much more challenging. But patterns have emerged, and I’ve already begun the Lowell/Bishop combined cento. I’m excited to see how that turns out.

For now, below is the Bishop cento; it will remain up until the next, and last, cento is up, probably Friday or Saturday. Many thanks to Carolee and Jill over at ReadWritePoem for coming up with this challenge!

{poof!}

Draft of the Week, #14.

I was lucky enough to spend two whole days with Rhett Iseman Trull, and what fun we had. We talked poetry, literary journals, played with the boys… and Lance made gumbo! Which we wolfed down, starved after our intersecting journeys.

First thing when we stepped out of the car after arriving from the airport, Rhett looked up and spied a bald eagle. Truly!  (We discovered later that he’s a regular—Lance always knows these things—called the “Bridge Eagle” around here, because he hovers around the bridge, fishing in the river. Which he can’t do right now, due to its current frozen state.) Sadly, that was the eagle’s first & only appearance to us—if he’s smart he lit off for better hunting grounds.

Rhett & Meg both read wonderfully; they were a great match-up, full of spark & personality, and we had a packed house. After such a lively poetry party, I had a hard time settling into sleep that night. Hooray for me, I had Rhett again the next day when the wacky weather played havoc with her travel plans. More poetry talk, more playing with the boys—Rhett’s a total wiz with kids, Vincent & Aidan adored her—until it was time to bring her back, however reluctantly, to the airport. I already miss her softly Southern lilt, and look forward to seeing her again sometime, I hope, in the not too distant future.

*

On another note, Carolee and Jill over at ReadWritePoem have named their poetry mini-challenge for the month, and it is “Fall in love with a poet”, cento-style! Check out their post here to read more on this form and what this challenge is all about.

Per the rules, I have altered very little: capitalizations, punctuation (though less than you might imagine), one verb tense, and I added one preposition. Not quite a pure cento, but pretty damn close.

Because I’m in the midst of a Lowell/Bishop kick, and because I can’t seem to follow a prompt without customizing it (sorry!), my plan is this: on day one (today) a cento from Lowell; day two (tomorrow, maybe Thursday), a cento from Bishop; and on the last day (Fri/Sat), a combined Lowell/Bishop cento. As each new poem goes up, the previous one will come down. Comments, both yays and nays, are always welcome.

(As an aside, does anyone know whether it’s okay to submit centos to journals for publication? I ask because the cento, even with due credit given, seems like it inhabits a sketchy magpie area. Any thoughts?)

{poof!}

Draft of the Week, #13

My computer travails continue, but my laptop’s working for the time being, long enough for me to complete a draft inspired by this week’s ReadWritePoem prompt — an evocative photograph. Per my usual tendencies, I’ve taken their nudge in my own direction. This might be altogether too abstract or wordy or [insert negative adjective here], so feel free to speak up with any thoughts yea or nay — I can take it!

And, also as usual, this will only remain for a couple days:

{poof!}

Draft of the Week, #12.

Wild January thaw — this weekend it’s supposed to warm to the 50’s, and give us a deluge of rain — by Sunday evening we probably won’t have any snow left on the ground!  Naturally, Lance was planning to take Vincent to a breakfast for the local snowmobile club on Sunday morning. The breakfast is still on, but probably no snowmobiling will be on evidence. Poor Vincent.

Massachusetts’ special elections to replace the irreplaceable Ted Kennedy this week kept us busily angst-ridden. Despite the wreckage of his youth, I always felt secure with Teddy as my senator; now I’m unmoored, unsure of our direction. This week’s poem reflects that uncertainty, I would wager.

It’s in the form of a madrigal, which is defined as a lyric consisting of one to four strophes of three lines followed by a two-line strophe called a ritornello. Strictly speaking I think it’s supposed to be a love or pastoral poem — I think I’ve captured a bit of the pastoral.

This will disapporate in a couple days:

{poof!}

Re: Draft of the Week, #11.

I’ve read various poems by both Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, and I have a copy of Lowell’s Complete Prose that, although I haven’t finished it, I’ve read a fair amount of. (I got it for $1 in 2008, what a steal!) But somehow I never realized what true friends they were to each other until last year, when I read all the brouhaha that accompanied the publication of Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.

I at last borrowed a copy from the library last week and am slowly making my way through it, but first and foremost I am moved by the great affection they have for each other on display in every letter.  For example, I’ve read up to 1961, and Lowell is about to publish Imitations, his book of translations.  He sent the MS to Bishop for her opinion, as he did many of his poems. However, Bishop was more than a little ambivalent about this book:

I’ve at last made up my mind to attempt something very difficult. You said “Let me know things you question,” and I’m going to and I pray you will please not be proud and sensitive. I am very much worried by the French translations, particularly the Rimbaud ones. Your English, your force and meter, are very over-riding and of course the meter of the Racine is a tour de force, I think….But once in a while I think you have made changes that sound like mistakes, and are open to misinterpretation. … I don’t want to sound scared, over-cautious, afraid of criticism, but I do want you to keep your reputation for solid, severe, painstaking workmanship. Your star is so very high right now.

Bishop is so manifestly worried for her friend, she writes two letters in this vein, detailing her concerns.  I found it very moving, the care with which she clearly chose her words, how much she seemed to agonize over it all.

I’m about halfway done, and absolutely need to read much more: I requested a biography of Bishop, and of course the poems of each, from the library, with Lowell’s biography next on the list. Does anyone have a recommendation for a good one? It looks like the two to choose from are the Paul Mariani and the Ian Hamilton, and I’m leaning towards the Hamilton at the moment.

It would be lovely to begin the New Year with a brand new draft, but the poem I’m working on right now is, wonder of wonders, a bit long, for me, a poem in four parts, and not yet finished. I could post part one, but the sections really are integral to each other, so I’ve decided that you’ll have to take my word for it: I am indeed writing & being ever so industrious. Thanks for visiting me here and keeping me honest. Thank you for reading, whether you comment or not, and thanks to the legion of other writers in the blogosphere who have immeasurably enriched my life through their posts and friendship. Here’s to another poetry-filled year!

Draft of the Week, #10.

Did you know there’s going to be a partial lunar eclipse on December 31, 2009? I was already working on this poem yesterday when I read this — there are amazing websites that list all the upcoming celestial happenings, and run graphics that show you what the sky/moon/sun will look like during the event.  Because these events always seem to happen at ungodly hours on cloudy nights.

Lots of Collected Poets Series doings right now, keeping me ultra-busy — check out our excitingly full slate for next year — but I hold out hope that I’ll still fulfill Mary’s “3 New Poems before 2010” challenge — and I received a welcome extra boost yesterday in the form of an acceptance from The MacGuffin.  The last couple weeks have seen many long-awaited rejections, a couple personal & encouraging, the rest little form slips.  Sigh. Thus this acceptance has taken on greater significance by virtue of (presumably) being the last word on the matter this year. And this is the 4th NaPoWriMo 2009 poem to be taken so far, nice assurance that the angst was worth it.

This poem will stay up the usual couple days, and then [poof!]:

[poof!]