Grief & Poetry in Progress

****"Untitled (Head of a Baby)" **** by Ron Mueck

Seventeen weeks since my mother died.

If my grief were a baby, it wouldn’t be eating solid food yet.

If my grief were a grapevine, the fruit would only now be ripening.

But my grief will not grow, or rot on the vine.

If anything has changed, it’s my understanding of how to approach it: carefully. At an angle. Not for nothing did ED say, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”

Summoning the memory of my mother’s last moments helps make her loss real, but I can only muster a glance from the corners of my eyes. To face this memory head-on is as devastating now as it was in March.

Approaching new writing can work like that, too. The glare of the blank page can be daunting if you don’t have an idea in your head, just the itch to get going already.

Ted Hughes draft

Yesterday I read a poem I really liked, but felt was marred by its final line. I sent the link to a friend, and he sent me back a line by line critique, and his own suggested edits. Which I disagreed with. So then I tinkered with it myself, and sent him my revision.

The most interesting part of this exercise was how similar it felt to revising my own poems, probably because this poem is stylistically and aesthetically kin to mine. I think so, anyway.

Point being, working on revisions of someone else’s poem can be a really useful warm-up to writing a draft of your own. Approaching a new poem from a roundabout.

I’m not going to post these poems here, because that would be awkward and weird, and I’d feel awkward and weird if the poet discovered them. (How rude!) Possibly I’m overly self-conscious about this.

But if you’re curious, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll send them to you, as long as you promise to keep it to yourself. Seriously. (How rude!)

And maybe then you could take a crack at it, too: an infinity of (secret!) parallel poems.

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Update: No sooner did I post this than I came across this!: Breaking the Rules: A Poetry Workshop. I’m not such a revolutionary after all.

On Revision

I don’t mean the sort of revising that is part of the usual process of writing a poem. I’m thinking more about the revising of poems that have already appeared in print. If you’ve ever seen Galway Kinnell read, you might have noticed the margins of the book he’s reading from filled with pencil scrawls. For Kinnell, there’s no such thing as a finished poem. If he has the impulse to revise an old poem while preparing for a reading (or even during the reading itself!), he goes ahead and does so, right there on the printed page.

I love Kinnell’s work, and what’s more, I would never tell any writer his process is wrong. But I wonder, if you were to track the various versions of his revisions through Kinnell’s books, what would you find?

This excerpt from a Q&A with Eavan Boland on the Smartish Pace website captures exactly my misgivings:

I think there’s always a charged relation between a writer and their early work. At least there is in my case. It’s hard not to see the flaws, the awkwardness and feel somewhat the same as when you see an early photograph of yourself. You think–why did I wear that? How did I let myself look at the camera like that? But it’s a misplaced self-consciousness: You aren’t–and you never will be again–the person who wrote those poems. The most vivid evidence you get of that is when you’re putting together a Selected Poems, as I did some years ago. You have to make a conscious effort to leave the poems alone that should be left alone. There’s a temptation to take poems that you wrote in your twenties and give them the smoothness or understanding you have in your forties. And it can become a kind of forgery.

— Eavan Boland, in her Smartish Pace Q&A

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If you’re a blogger interested in hosting a Tupelo poet via Q&A of your own, or a book review, or something of your own devising, and just haven’t gotten around to saying so, it’s not too late. Email me at mgauthier [at] tupelopress [dot] org and throw your name in the ring. Write now, before it falls off your to-do list.

And if you’ve written already, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you — only hoping to add a few more participants to the list. I really love this batch of new books, I want to get them in the hands of as many readers as I can. Besides these titles just released there are these coming out soon — such terrific poetry and poets!

from Poor-Mouth Jubilee, by Michael Chitwood:

I Heart Erin Belieu.

Back years ago when I did try and send out a few things, the first time I got rejected I nearly beat the mailbox to death. Seriously, I kicked it till the post broke. And I’m pretty sure that’s a felony.

Okay, as the owner of all 3 of her books, I was predisposed to enjoy this installment of How a Poem Happens.  But you should definitely not miss Erin Belieu’s matter-of-fact, straight-up answers to how her poem happened.