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Monday, July 16, 2012

Triggermoon Triggers Me

I've been struggling with the ending of a poem I want to include in my new manuscript. It was published in a journal a year or two ago, and when the journal editor accepted it, she suggested I lop off the last two lines before publication. I thought about it long and hard, and then did it, because I don't get a lot of feedback here in Japan and wish that I did, since writing groups have been so helpful to me in the past. Plus I liked the editor's work (chasing down her poems on the internet had led me to this particular journal in the first place) so I trusted her opinion.

But I wasn't all that happy with the truncated ending and wanted to change it before putting it in the manuscript. With some time and distance from the poem, I could agree that the ending I had had was weak, and that the line the editor had asked me to end on was stronger. But now my stanzas were of uneven length (which isn't always important but in this poem I feel it is) and the ending was abrupt, so I wanted to add a little more and fix those problems.

I've been struggling with this for about two weeks. Nothing I tried worked. I thought of advice that has helped me in the past, "When you are stuck, say the opposite of what you had been saying, and see what happens." But this was not a case of there being an opposite. Still, I knew I wanted to say something completely new and yet still connected to the topic of the poem, and still in the same voice. There are themes in my manuscript that aren't yet in the poem, so I tried to weave them into an ending consistent with where the poem was going, but no, it didn't work.

All week I wrote in lines and scratched them out. Nothing was right. Then yesterday, after struggling for an hour or so, I decided to give up for the day, and instead read some poetry. I picked up Julia Cohen's Triggermoon, Triggermoon (this is one of the books I got when I splurged on Black Lawrence books). Cohen is one of those poets who strings together surreal images in lines that have huge leaps between them (think Elizabeth Willis). I was marvelling at her ability to jump between images and (seemingly) topics and still have a coherent tone; this was the kind of thing I needed to do but couldn't. And then, after reading just three poems, my mind threw at me an image for the ending of my own poem, one that echoed another poem in the manuscript, but which would be completely fresh and different in the poem I was toiling over. And yet consistent with that poem.

The image had nothing to do with anything I had read in Triggermoon, Triggermoon, but I have no doubt that reading those free-associating lines was what loosened up my own creativity. This will be a book I'll return to when I'm stuck in the same way again.


Shawnte said...

This post made me google for some of her work, just in case it might have a similar effect on any of my dead-end-poems.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

I hope it works out for you, Shawnte. If not, think of someone else who writes in a way you don't but who has a talent that could be freeing if you could just tap into it somehow.