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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Poems Vs. Projects

I like to read poetry books that are written with themes in mind, but I also enjoy books without any discernible theme, those that seem like a collection of poems, rather than a project. Both organizations have their beauties, their surprises, their intricacies.

But I have to admit I have a strong preference for writing poems in projects, or series, or cycles. I think it's because I'm an obsessive kind of person. I love repetition. I love to think about the same topic in depth for months. When I try a new method of writing, a new form, I tend to do it again and again. This suits not only my temperment, but also my time constraints. When I write lots of lines about a subject but end up pruning half of them out of a finished poem, if I am writing a series, I have lines to start the next piece. When I am following a very specific writing practice, or fulfilling certain rules I have set up for myself, I never begin with a blank page, but with some kind of direction. This not only pleases me, but spurs me on, saves me time I would otherwise spend floundering.

That's why I'm feeling a bit bereft these days. I have recently finished up a series of eight-lined poems that all came from the same process, the same set of limitations, and a vaguely related theme (there are six of these poems; I had meant to do eight eight-lined poems for that numerical echo, but at six it was clear to me that the series was done). Now this series is over, and I don't have another one devised for myself. So I thought I would try writing individual poems, ones that are not part of a series or cycle or project.

To that end, I have remembered the following two quotes, which give me some encouragement to just sit in my chair and wait to see what comes along.

It isn't necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don't even listen, just wait. Don't wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you to be unmasked, it can do no other, it will writhe before you in ecstasy.

Arrange whatever pieces come your way.
Virginia Woolf

Happily I can do the first (well, after the boys go back to school, tomorrow being an extra day off, and assuming my workload keeps at an even level and doesn't experience a surge) now that my houseguest has left. As for the second, hmmmmmm. And will the first work? Do I really have faith that it will?

I know that given my temperment, if I do get a decent poem, I'm likely to develop it into a series by identifying which elements inspired me or seemed to do what I wanted them to do, or what I didn't want them to do but which surprised me. But right now I just want to get one single poem on its own.

What about you? Do you have a preference for either reading or writing poem projects or more individual poems?


Carol Berg said...

Hi Jessica.
I'm knee-deep into a Write A poem every month and notice that when I have a series, it's so much easier to kick those out. I had a few self-portrait series and used whatever thing happened that day (or in previous entries in my journal), such as visiting a water-themed park or watching a bumblebee get knocked about. But this month, I got no series, and nothing is happening, it seems like. Each commitment to the page is always a different struggle to overcome, it seems!

Jessica Goodfellow said...

That's so true, Carol. We have to learn our process everytime we go to write a poem, which is a necessity in art, I suppose, and one of the dynamics behind the drive to create, that we have to find the way to do it before we can do it (or maybe during the process of doing it). It's out impetus as well as our bane.