14 August 2017

A Few Words on Revision

Hay bales in the pasture. 

There seems to be a common misconception that because poetry is often short, it’s easy. 

It’s not. 

Good poetry takes work, and part of the work is revision. You may get lucky, and create a poem that needs little tightening up or tidying, but those poems are rare exceptions rather than the rule. A lot of people say, “What ever comes out of my head, onto the paper, that’s it. It’s a poem.” The feeling is that it either works, or it doesn’t work, either way the implication is that further revision is unnecessary or a waste of time. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Most novelists wouldn’t let their first draft see the light of day, why is it acceptable for poetry? It makes poetry seem like the ugly stepchild of writing, not worthy of the love and attention given to longer works. Raw emotion puked onto the page isn’t enjoyable for anyone. Is it the excitement of creation – the instant gratification- that attracts the non-revisionist? Or the fear of taking a hard, critical look at the writing? Why not make the poem be all it can be, instead of kicking it to the curb right after it’s born? 

Revision is hard, it’s unpleasant, and it makes us doubt and question. Being honest with your poetry is the toughest thing you’ll do. If you can’t critically evaluate what you’ve written, how are you going to take the criticisms of others once your poem is let loose in the big, bad world? And they will criticize. Poetry can be written for oneself, but really, what is the point? You know your truths. You want to share/inflict them on others, or else you wouldn’t put them down on paper. Good poems should leave your senses bruised and battered, and at the same time, awed. They should inspire you in some way – as writer, as reader, as human being.

The fear of revision often comes from the fear of change. Changing even one line of your poem can mean altering its intent and message. Perhaps it’s meant to change. Maybe what you meant to say slipped out, but not in the manner you intended. Maybe you shoehorned the poem into a form it’s uncomfortable with. Is the real, true intent of the poem lying somewhere beneath the surface? You won’t know unless you dig down and pry away all the extraneous dreck that creeps into poetry in the name of ‘art’. If you want people to see the nuggets of truth, you need to scrape off the surface dirt and let it shine on its own. 

Poetry can be one of the most painful writing processes in terms of procedure. You can hide the truths in a novel length work, sneak up on them, and approach them obliquely. Even with short stories the approach is more leisurely. Due to its sparse nature, poetry is pretty much a head-on collision. If you can’t stare down the fierce-eyed headlight of the poetry train, get off the tracks. Write something else. You’ll be doing yourself and others a kindness. Poetry is not for the transient, the dabbler, the weak of purpose, and those with timid heart. It may sound harsh, and it’s meant to. If you don’t want to work at writing it, I don’t want to read it.
“So although the goal is universality, the poem’s arena of achievement is necessarily constricted and the poet’s attitude one of precarious transparency. Good poetry thus produced is cleansed of dross, of falsehood, and everything extraneous to the representation of the poet’s primary subject, inevitably an affirmation to the ideals in question. “Good” applied to poetry in this sense points to its moral significance, which coordinates the poet’s psychological need with an aesthetic aim in the interest of creations that exceed a narrow construct of either. The cure of poetry is the achievement of the poem’s rescue from an accumulation of prosaic impulses that stanch the spring of feeling and idea.”
Kinzie, Mary. The Cure of Poetry in an Age of Prose: Moral Essays on the Poet's Calling. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1993.

*This essay is a reprint of one of my previous essays.

30 July 2017

The Value of Silence

What nature gives, nature can also take away.

Last week the lights went out. Along with the power for everything in our house. It was heralded by an unbelievably loud crack of thunder and stab of lightning. The house plunged into darkness. And silence. This time of year we have air conditioners and fans running. Corgis don't do well in the heat. We want them to be comfortable. The background noise is something you get used to. Now it was gone, along with the quiet hum of the refrigerator and various background sounds of electrical appliances. The house was completely still. It was a bit of a shock. I grabbed my phone and used it as a flashlight to check the fuse box. Not us. We waited patiently for everything to come back on. Electrical crews usually worked fast. Nothing happened. The outage must be big. I got a glimpse of what the term 'deathly silence' meant. I could hear a ringing in my ears as if the sounds were still there.

We grabbed our flashlights and made our way to the front door and out onto the porch. The whole neighborhood was black. No street lights, no porchlights, like a ripple the darkness spread out. We turned off the flashlights and stood watching the show of lightning as it sliced toward the ground and horizontally, cloud to cloud. The thunder finally reduced to occasional grumbles as the storm moved away. It was peaceful. And dark, did I mention dark? As I got used to it, I began to enjoy it. The dogs sat with us, not digging the storm or thunder. Sitting in the dark, petting a dog, I was content. There wasn't even any of that lingering nervousness that a diet of pre-teen horror movies could bring on. This was a good quiet, one born of nature, the feeling you get when you camp in a meadow and look up at the stars.

What a contrast to the day they cut a fiber optic line and our cable, internet, and cell phones went down. It was like cutting junkies off from a fix. I found myself turning to my phone to find updates, only to realize my phone was a brick to the outside world. The world shrunk down to the space I occupied. And it lasted for hours. Our work is tied to the ability to access the Internet. I played games on my phone that didn't require a connection. I cleaned my office. I filed papers. Finally, after a few hours, I went home. Somehow being home with no connections is better than being at work. I wondered what it would be like to lose electrical service and all the other connections all at the same time. Unplugged from the world. I'd like to think I'd take the time to sit, and get in touch with my inner Constance.

What would you do if cut off from power and the rest of the world? 

*Lightning photo courtesy of Pixabay.

16 July 2017

Puppy Max

I felt like doing a flashback post, so I give you Puppy Max.

A few months old and already plotting his herding chores.

Napping after a hard day of dogging.

Contemplating which mischief he will get into next.

"The stealthy Corgi lies in wait for his arch nemesis, Anubis D. Cat." 

Posing with one of my humans.

Max at 6 weeks old. Ears up and ready to fly. After a nap, of course.

Every pizza you bake, every snack you make, I'll be watching you.

02 July 2017

Broken Things

Let us speak today of broken things....

...of rock slabs sliding their way to dust...

...and of trees that push up between rocks then die in their presence...

...of trees that escape their boundaries and are swept away to new places...

...or do not fall quietly in a forest, but loudly for all to hear...

...only to end up as something valuable, like firewood in a broken rock fireplace.
What things do you see that are broken, but end up being something else? Do you fix it, or repurpose it?  Are broken things necessarily bad? Or useless? What's broken in your life?

18 June 2017

Summer Corgis

I heard complaints that there wasn't enough Corgi representation on the blog of late. Here are some pics to remedy that.

Play Ball!  Max is ready for summertime ball games.

Merlin welcomes you to his summer with a patented Corgi grin.

Merlin would also like to inform you he is on guard against the Water Monster.

Max, on the other hand, will have nothing to do with the Water Monster. He patrols dry land, thank you very much.

Merlin guards against the resident squirrel, Aloysius, and his evil visiting brother Earl the Squirrel.

A discussion about proper ball retrieving etiquette takes place between the Bark Brothers.