Distractions

My poetry collection needs to be completely edited and then sent off by November 15th, but I haven’t touched it much since I had my surgery on the 30th. I made some changes before the surgery that I really, really liked, and I figured I’d go back and do many more before the deadline.

Unfortunately, I doubt that’s going to happen because two days ago, I came up with an idea for a Young Adult novel with the help of my husband, I started writing it, joined NaNoWriMo, and now I’m 22 pages in with no desire to slow down anytime soon.

This might be a sign that I’m done with the collection because I’ve finally moved onto another project. I’ve been floundering for a while now, thinking maybe I’d write another collection, maybe a memoir, but nothing held me for very long, and some were just scraps of ideas that were too right or too big when I tried them on for size.

I hope I have the creative energy and time to give my collection one last run through before I send her off, but I’m okay today if I don’t too. Maybe she’s ready to be let go because I’ve got a new baby to focus on.

Happy writing!

Liz Berry’s “Scenes from ‘The Passion’: The First Path”

It’s easy for me to find fault with the poems I find in Poetry. That journal is the top, up there with the all-wonderful New Yorker, and it’s easy to hate the poems there at the top. It’s easy to say, “Oh goodness, I never would have chosen that for a title,” or “A flarf poem? Really? I’m so above flarf poems!” Or “Yeah, that’s randomly indent everything into beautiful ‘enjambment’, my a$$.”

But, other times, I can make it all about the poetry and finding something beautiful, and this poem is simply beautiful:

Scenes from “The Passion”: The First Path

BY LIZ BERRY

When you found me there was nothing beautiful about me.
I wasn’t even human

                                          just a mongrel
kicked out into the snow on Maundy Thursday
when all the world was sorrow,
when old girls’ hands were raw as they cracked
the ice on their birdbaths,
when the priest wept in Saint Jude the Apostle
as he knelt to wash the feet of an altar boy.
I was filth,

                    running away from God knows what,
my haunches sore with bruises,
my spine knuckling the ruin of my coat.
Running through the town

                                                      away from the horses
who bowed their heads to the donkey-bite,
away from the boy in the bus shelter

                                                                         who turned from me
to receive a snowflake
like a wafer on his tongue.
Lord help me

                           I did things I would once
have been ashamed of.
Now no one would come near me,

                                                                       they feared
the hunger that gnawed and whined in my bones,
the hurt I would carry into their houses.
Only you dared follow

                                             upon the track
of my bloodied paw prints in the ice,
where the trees held snow in their arms
like winding sheets.

                                     You came for me there
                                                                    close, low,
calling a name that was not mine.
Calling wench, my wench
as the tongues of the church bells rang mute.
At your scent on the air,

                                                I shot
through the woods — a gray cry —
so raw only the dusk could touch me
but you were patient,

                                            waited
through the dense muffled hours
until darkness dropped and I sank into the midden
behind the factory
and the chimneys cast a wreath of ash upon me.
                                      You touched me then,
                               when I was nothing but dirt,
took off your glove and laid your palm upon my throat,
slipped the loop of the rope,

                                               lifted me
into your arms and carried me home

                                                              along the first path.
In the banks the foxes barked alleluia alleluia.
The blizzard tumbled upon us like confetti
and I, little bitch, blue bruise,
saw myself in your eyes:

                                                  a bride.

–from the October 2014 issue (link here)

Just like repairing drywall

Today while I was getting everything ready to be off from work for three days recovering from surgery, I took some time out to look over my manuscript again. I tweaked some lines, did some minor shuffling, and then I re-read the first section a few times.

I realized that with some minor changes, I could make the whole section sound like it’s from the same child speaker. I loved that idea. I made the changes. I read the manuscript from start to finish to see how that change would go along with the rest, and I loved it. It felt perfect.

Now, I’m not so worried about taking some time off from the manuscript before the November 15th deadline. I need to let it dry before I come back, sand it down, and spackle it.

I can rest easy. 🙂

On returning to old work

I think it’s necessary to point you to this post by the poet Molly Spencer and tell you to read, read, read. I simply love her advice on about re-using (or cannibalizing) old work. It’s true. Sometimes I had some really great ideas while I was a less adept poet, and/or I had an idea and it just didn’t come together the way I would have hoped. Those ideas/scraps/almost poems have lagged in drawers and desktop folders for a long time in the hopes of being re-discovered.

In the past, I’ve looked through old poems and stolen lines or images and fashioned them into a new one, one definitively better and more interesting. My writing style has changed a lot through the years, and sometimes an idea or image is best served in a new style or in a new context.

Staying in touch with my own work means I’m also thinking about the arc of my own progression, being reminded of old obsessions, re-discovering quirks and turns of phrases I could use in later work. It’s like going back into your closet and finding clothes you can re-stitch and make cool again.

I’m having surgery tomorrow. Poetry manuscript deadlines are November 15th. I’m concerned about how long the recovery time is going to be (it’s laparoscopic) and how it’ll affect how much I’m going to be able to put into this manuscript, but it’ll get done. Everything will be okay.

The home stretch?

A friend of mine read through my full-length manuscript, Swallow Tongue, and gave me some good minor and major feedback. I’m so grateful to have writer friends in my life who will go through a manuscript for me and see what’s necessary for me to see.

Her biggest suggestion is that maybe I shouldn’t have the incest poems appear first (Explanation: I have written two poems, one based on a Greek myth where a girl beds her father in the dark without him knowing it’s her and another where it’s strongly implied that something weird is going on between father and daughter. I like them because their weirdness than shades all of the poems in that section as a little weird despite the fact that most of them are humdrum child/parent poems.). Her feedback stems from the fact that they are pretty dark or disturbing poems, and the first section of a poetry manuscript must set up the rest. The rest of the manuscript isn’t that dark or disturbing, so there’s a lot of set up that never goes anywhere.

Seems like good feedback, right? But now, what to do with the incest poems? The first section of my manuscript is a “child” one, the second is a “wife/lover” one, and then I’ve got a “mother” one. I can’t  just pull the incest poems out and stick them in another section because it wouldn’t work thematically. I could delete them both, but then, I feel, I’d be losing two strong poems and not have anything to replace them with.

This could be an example of needing to throw out the baby with the bath water or kill my darlings. The former means I’m getting rid of what’s essential along with what’s inessential, and the latter means I’m letting go of the things I love maybe too much out of personal attachment instead of whether it’s actually good for the manuscript. Am I loving my incest poems too much?

For the time being, I’ve removed one and moved the other to nearly the end of the first section. There’s still more to be done, though. The first section must be THE section, the wham-bam-thank-ya-m’am section, and I think the other two sections are much stronger. It also doesn’t make sense to arrange it, since don’t you go from child to wife to mother? Right??

I have a path, though, and the end is nigh!!