Trying to come up for air after being immersed in the suffering of the people around me lately, I’ve found myself turning more and more to my first love in writing: poetry. Because I’ve been focusing on the memoir so much over the past year, I’ve had to move my poetry to the back-burner. Fresh off a grueling thesis process and my MFA graduation, this didn’t bother me so much at first. And for a while, it was enough just to know that I was finding success in genres outside my home turf. While I was still having poems picked up for publication here and there, I was placing a few short fiction pieces as well, and getting great feedback on the nonfiction manuscript. And while I am still proud to have my fingers dipping into several different honey pots, these days I am lonesome for the company of my poet-friends and their excellent work.
I’m still too exhausted and computer-weary to have any post-able drafts of new poems yet, but what I simply can’t get enough of right now is reading all of my favorites. I’ve been helping my dear friend and writing partner, Kelly Davio, work on her revolutionary novel in verse recently. And while searching for a certain poem that I thought might help her with one of her motifs, I got lost in my copy of Tess Gallagher’s Dear Ghosts. An excellent read. The poem I got stuck on, for the second time in the last year, was “Irish Weather” (easily adaptable for Seattle weather, of course).
Rain squalls cast sideways
the droplets visible
like wheat grains
sprayed from the combine.
As suddenly, sunshine.
If a person behaved
this way we’d call them
neurotic. Given weather, we gust
and plunder with only
small comment: it’s
raining; sun’s out.
The first time I got stuck on this poem about six months ago, it felt like I was experiencing one of those immaculate writing intervention moments we writers crave but rarely see–when the words seem to fall from the clouds and straight through our brains, out our fingertips and onto the screen, and when we lift our faces up for breath or a glance at the clock, we realize that five hours and twenty pages have passed without our knowing. This moment didn’t produce twenty pages, but similarly divine in nature. Because of course, we writers know that there is so much more involved in writing a book, a poem, a story, or essay, beyond the actual writing. In fact, I’d say the physical act of typing makes up less than half of the total work it takes to make a career in this industry.
When I set out to rewrite my manuscript, I knew that I would keep very little of what I’d previously written. In the end, I wound up using only seven pages of the original draft, rewriting the addition 241 pages of the current draft in four months. Because the task was so daunting, I couldn’t get myself started. For two days I sat at my desk and stared at that taunting little prompt, flashing mockingly back at me on the empty page. Frustrated, I felt like I needed to do something to reinvent my writing space and mentality. I began furiously ripping pages out of the books in my office (don’t scoff—they are my books and I can dog-ear, margin-write, or rip things out if I feel like it). I pinned all these little nibbles of poems and paragraphs, some that I’d never even read, onto the wall above my desk in a mish-mosh of words and beats. I wrote down all the best writing advice I’d heard on post-its and tacked those up as well—things like “Writing is joyriding, editing is engine maintenance.”
With my wall covered in paper and thumb-tacks, I finally sat down and started to write. Though I rarely glanced up to read the words, those bits of writing found ways to work their way into my brain, perhaps through some kind of mystical literary osmosis. One day while writing what will always be the toughest chapter for me, I felt the need for the perfect epigraph—something about light. I thought for a moment, looked up above my computer, and read the exact lines I needed—sitting there in a May Sarton poem I’d put up there months before. This sort of thing happened a few more times, once with the above Tess Gallagher poem, and I thanked the poet-gods for keeping an eye on me. They must have known all along.
Even when I thought that my first love genre was out of play, it clearly wasn’t. A few already-crafted poems from my thesis collection wove themselves into the prose of the book, so that when I’d thought I had taken a break from the memoir, I was actually getting a ton of work done without even knowing it.
As my book goes off for pitching this week, I find myself needing to start something new, something to sustain the literary scraps I’m left with now that the book is complete.
I hope the poet-gods will smile down on me one more time, and get me back in the game.