Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Dark Side of Revision, The Lighter Side of Constraints, and the Joy of the Midway Point

It's been an interesting six weeks with this Project Verse competition. I don't know how long they're going to let me stay on Poetry Island, but whatever happens, the experience has been a lot more intense than I expected--and really fascinating.

I blogged a few weeks ago about being very slow to produce. At least, it feels that way to me. If I put out one to two quality poems every month or so, I'm generally happy. Part of this is due to holding down a very full-time job with a hellish commute. It's a job I'm quite fond of, but which tends to sap me sand-dry a lot of times. Part of it is my lack of any real formal education in English or poetry. I second-guess myself a lot, and I suppose that I feel somehow that endless revisions will make up for my lack of actual education in poetics--although, sometimes that revision is a good thing.

Sadly, the times when the perfect line has tumbled out whole straight from the heavens through my fingertips have been few and far between. It's confusing to me, the actual, sheer amount of real toil that goes into to creating something that looks like it required no effort. But also, I like the toil. The coaxing, the taffy-pull feel of it, the hammering and nailing and sweat and sawdust.

I worked with an online tutor for about a year, who was amazing, because he taught me how to write formal verse, and pretty much had no tolerance for anything else. At first it made me nuts, working within all of that constraint, but then I began to see that it is within the constraint itself that there is the most fertile ground for creativity. And I've thought a lot about how this applies to other things as well--all of this lack everyone is experiencing nowadays. Lack of money, time, and resources that use to be depended on as a matter of course. How do you meet your needs within all these unfamiliar constraints? Many people are doing some amazing things with that question.

The main constraint for me in Project Verse is time. Because of my job, I get home around six or seven most nights, sit down at my computer and immediately begin writing. Even in this short time, I've gotten into quite the routine with it. Monday nights, which is right around when we get the assignment for the week, I write until about eleven o'clock or midnight. I tend not to bother with eating or paying the least bit of attention to my lovely husband, who is fortunately very understanding and akin to your average house cat in level of neediness. Repeat, Tuesday night and a fair part of Wednesday, when I take a short break to go and run The Poet's Cafe at the teen shelter downtown. Wednesday late-night is for final polishing and revision, and Thursday, I send off the poem.

I don't get to put it away for two months and come back to it and rework it and polish off the rough edges and shake it loose then glue it's head back on and change its dress and hat. It's due. I have to let it go out into the net-o-sphere without all of the fuss and loving care that I really want to give it. But it's so freeing to do that! To proclaim something complete, and launch it like a paper boat, and wave goodbye to it, and hope for the best. I have no choice. It's such a freeing feeling, to have no choice.

So, if nothing else, Project Verse is healing me of the dark side of revision. I can't endlessly search for the next possibility, the better choice, the more perfect word. I have to settle, a little. But most of all, I have to trust. And so far, it's worked out okay.

But we'll see what this week brings.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know, James Bond is fairly low maintenance too. Just sayin'.