A Poet and You Know It

I’ve been plugging along with making myself write a longer-form piece. Right now it’s non-fiction, but I can see a way for it to become a work of fiction (and it will need to become fiction if it’s going to see the light of day). It’s not going terribly— I did a week (I count a week as 3/5 days) of 20-minute lunch writing in December before the busy overtook me, and I’ve done a week and a day of lunch writing in January, plus some reading about structure and some experimenting with writing software. I’ve transcribed it and tried my first mind map (not a fan, so far).

It’s taking me some interesting places and I think it’s a worthwhile exercise. I have doubts about whether this leads me to book publishing, but I’m willing to commit to a year of it to see where it takes me. So far, I can say that it’s cheaper than therapy and nearly as helpful in helping me make connections.

But this morning, I was listening to a New York Public Library podcast featuring Cynthia Nixon and the poet Sharon Olds. Sharon was talking about her process for writing poetry, and how she’ll write down the words that come to her in a moment away from her writing desk, but she’ll leave out all the vowels. People were totally puzzled by this, but she said that if she writes down the full words, she’s writing the poem, and this happens when she’s definitively not ready to write the poem. And as they pressed her about this, she said that if she writes it fast, the words she uses will have their own magnetism. They’ll call to other words, and when she realizes the words are wrong and removes them, it’s not just taking out one word— it pulls with it all the words that it beckoned. You could feel the people thinking “how odd?” “Isn’t she quirky?!”

This totally makes sense to me.

At the end of the day, I think I’ve fought against the idea that my natural form of expression is the poem. For me, it’s the moment, not the epic tale. But I’m a deeply practical person. Poetry is not a great way to make a living as a writer. Frankly, it’s not even the best way to get read and understood. But heaven knows that I explore all kinds of things in my non-writing creative life— bread-baking and glasswork and calligraphy and on and on, so I’ll keep at it.

To me, this explains a lot about my career— editing is a thing I can do largely because of my ear, but I find a lot of the specifics of editing nit picky and exasperating. Enough already, with the trees! You know that’s a forest, right? It’s maybe why I feel like being out in the world and having moments is as much art as anything I do at a keyboard— I’m moment-capturing.

I think it’s also part of why I like minimalistic theater and appreciate modern art— you don’t need all the set pieces to convey an essential truth, and sometimes, when you dress it up, it gets lost.



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