Saturday, April 14, 2007

How Dave Probably Shouldn't Write Poetry

I saw that Brian Dunn had posted his version of this on his blog, so I thought I might follow suit:

I’m still not entirely sure how I write poems. This could be a false statement. I do know, from the look of general concern that clouds the faces of some of those I talk to about how I write, that I must have one of the worst writing methods on the planet. I’m not particularly good at keeping secret my jealousy of those who have the discipline and control to be able to devote two hours a morning (for some reason, they always write in the mornings) toward writing and they plug away at it, each day, as the sun comes up. Plath did it. Jacques Roubaud does it. Thomas Mann did it. Methodical method. Efficient and helpful. Mornings, for me, are much better suited for input than output. In a previous life, I would read complicated novels in the morning and write notes and reflections in the evening. When I wrote at all. Even now, my writing is sporadic, spotty, uncertain, iffy. On more than a few occasions the fear of not having something for workshop was what got the poem out, had me tapping violently away at an overworn greasy computer lab keyboard. These events, as with others not quite so frantic, are generally accompanied by rough notes that I’d written at some earlier point, almost always written in the evening or night, almost always put to paper in a restaurant or bar. I've tried libraries, but there one isn't in the middle of people talking, or getting annoyed with each other; they're all there for other reasons than discussion or food or breakup. So I sit, waiting for food, or perhaps with a martini. Gin is not particularly good at wetting a stopped fountain pen, but is occasionally good for loosening various musings that may be of use later. I have an assortment of postcards in my bookbag, which I often write to people if I find myself having difficulty getting started...writing to others necessitates having to think about recent events, things seen, thoughts that have struck me in some way or other. So, restaurants and bars, and always alone: for some reason I need that sort of atmosphere. Sitting in a public place, yet removed from it, with conversations and movement all around. This may be the reason for the “detached 'I'” feature found in most of my stuff from last semester. It may be a defense mechanism or crutch, too, for that matter.

Poetry came when I was a sophomore in high School, when I happened upon The Mirror by Plath in the literature anthology we used. The mirror reflecting the pink wall opposite it and the woman’s face, in whom an old woman rises closer to the surface every day, “like a terrible fish.” But this is a misquote, now that I think of it, now that I walk over and pull the book from the shelf. The mirror is "the eye of a little god" which then becomes a lake, over which the woman agitatedly returns. The mirror is what has that unsettling power invested in it. The power isn't in the woman's face... "In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman/ Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish." The power of this image, this surprising power given an inanimate object was a thunderbolt to me. I started reading Plath, hiding in the magazine room during Study Hall, then moved to Anne Sexton. I began writing overly gloomy, doomed poems in which everything had gone irreparably wrong.

I gradually got better. I wrote in college, but in my senior year something scared me somehow; some terrible fish had risen too close to the surface and I shut down the operation. No more writing. Just notes, observations, ideas. More often than not, I wouldn’t write those down at all; would put them off for later, which meant that they were forgotten, usually. That engrained habit, years of suppressing ideas, has been difficult to break. It’s extremely easy for me to not bother, to discount. It should have been no wonder, then, when I discovered one day that all of my favorite writers have repression as a main motif.

Perhaps because of all this, for me, poems come up, like some strange plant, or buried stones pushed up though brown grass by frost heaves. My memory works much the same way. Images and events come up, like submerged logs in a pond. If an idea manages to be insistent enough, to nag, to finally badger me out of procrastination, I end up writing it down. Survival of the most persistent. Lately, that’s changed. I’ve started to realize how many ideas I’ve got and routinely squelch. More timid ones are finding their way to paper. Rough notes, more often inspired by prose rather than poetry.

Regarding the content of my poems, I first wrote from drastically darkened personal experience, but quickly moved to dream imagery and possible juxtapositions to things in real life. This semester, though, everything’s gone ass-over-applecart, and I’ve been throwing just about anything at the paper, just to see what sticks. So my method is hardly a method. It happens, and as I ease more into this thing I’m doing, I hope to find something that works best…


Kristen said...

Great! Keep at it! As cheesy at it sounds, most psychologists who deal with blocked writers suggest just what you are doing--just write every day. Just put stuff down on paper and "see what sticks."

BTW, perhaps my favorite writer ever, Dostoevsky, wrote exclusively at night.

brian said...

The next step is that we start turning in blog posts to workshop.

brizbrizuri said...

People write at the beginning of the day so they don't run out of time, because for many, the end is crammed with social engagements, alchohol, and such. Write when it works best for you, and as Kristen said, "Just put stuff down on paper and 'see what sticks.'" (anyone know how to tag color?)

brian said...

I like what Sherman Alexie told us: that he gets most of his writing done while he is on book tours.

So, all we have to do is get famous enough to go on book tours, then we'll be set.

Laura said...

What a beautiful piece this is! I love how you speak of discovering poetry in that image of the "terrible fish." And the way memory, and poems, also rise to the surface.