Saturday, January 17, 2015

Adventures in Feedback: Fear and Fruition, and A Brand New Poem!

This week, for the first time in well over a year, I wrote a poem! Ever since I finished the first draft of the novel, I have heard the dim but persistent music of poetry calling me back. I’ve jotted down ideas and notes as they’ve come to me, but I didn’t put anything into form until recently. It’s not a great work of art or anything, but it made me really happy to know that poetry is back for me, for however long it may be. I think I needed to get the novel out of my system before I could find space in my head for anything else.

Speaking of the novel, I recently had a great experience doing a “trade” reading with someone I connected with through Absolute Write. We both wanted a specific sort of critique, and as it turns out, both of our main characters were so alike (hers male, mine female), that we jokingly contemplated getting the two of them together in a separate novel. (The ensuing chaos would be fantastic!) It was an interesting and gratifying experience to critique someone else’s work. Firstly, it reminded me to have compassion for myself and how freaking hard it is to write a whole, entire effin' book. And it was a surprisingly creative process to give feedback. It felt like I was part of an exciting collaborative effort, and it was exhilarating. It also made me happy that the feedback I was giving genuinely helped the author. I didn’t fully realize until then how lonely this book-writing thing has been. Doing a critique trade was a good reminder that art is at its essence collaborative, and that we create so that those creations can be experienced and hopefully, have an impact on an audience. It takes an enormous amount of fortitude to labor away in isolation for so long, without the gratification of sharing work and receiving a response.

Conversely, the feedback I received was incredibly helpful, with big things such as character development, but also with small but important things like, “That’s the only photo Harley has of her little brother, and three scenes ago she tore it to pieces in a rage, but in this scene, it’s intact and she’s taping it to her computer monitor.” Ohhh. Right. *Smacks forehead*. After a point, you simply become blind to these details in your own work. And then there’s the sheer depressing, daunting, hide-under-the-covers realization of how much work there is still left to do now that the “fun” part is over and the re-write is imminent. And I face the scary prospect of having to re-make one of my main characters, because he’s always been a bit of a zero and really needs a personality. He is the only character I didn’t do an in-depth character study on, and I realize now that’s because I’m scared of him. I’m afraid of his pain, his suffering, and the depth of the loss he’s experienced in his young life. I subconsciously thought I could get away with having him be a laconic plot device, but it's clear I’m not going to get out of giving him his fair due. So on the agenda this weekend is a complete re-imagining of “Sci-Fi Lye”.

I’m a little nervous to post this, a wobbly, first-step poem after having let my poetry muscles atrophy for so long. But here it is:

Dream Dictionary

To dream of light returning on its own
means you’ll rise from churning waters
blackened with seaweed and salt,
well versed in the tongue of the drowned,
and madder now than even when you dove.

To dream of crows trading foil for bread
means you’ll be asked to solve a riddle:
Sacrifice is to nourishment as what is to the sun?
Carve the answer in an onion seed and
plant it under stones.

To dream of the names of roses
means take solace in the purity of sound:
Your bestowals are leviathans,  
and what is blessed is not by rights divine.
Be cautious with all magic in these times.

To dream of peeling oranges
means you long for home.
Make a fortress of its dour skin,
and dream of when the light, the roses, the
healing bread will rise. 

--Kristen McHenry

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