September’s Changing Focus Blog Challenge: Reflections

Last month I was excited to find the Changing Focus Blog Challenge, because I’m always looking for ways that my talents and creativity can work together, and a multimedia project around a theme each month felt like just the thing for me. I came up with, and executed, my Pathways response in two weeks. I like it, but it felt like a draft: rushed and rough, And I didn’t realize I didn’t have until the end of the month, so it was late.

So this month, I paid special attention to the end date, and got started right away with an oral poem to music for dVerse Poets Pub.

I thought about reflecting bokeh and tried several shots with the big mirror in the closet, and got some very interesting shots, but that needs a lot more practice.

The lake wasn’t calm enough to get much other than dock shadow. I took a few photographs of reflections in the windows, thinking of setting up scenes inside and doing an inside/outside type reflection.

I wrote more poems about reflections. I found a great site for kids that inspired me to do an acrostic, but that led me to working on a submission for Constellations: A Journal of Poetry and Fiction with the theme Redirections. I love how my work on pathways and reflections had my mind firing for redirections.

After I looked up “reflections” definitions and found “folding back,” I thought my daily inkblots that I started during “Pathways” could continue into this project and I thought about playing with my Rorschach mask, a mask that reacts to temperature change to change its black and white pattern. I couldn’t see through the mask, so the 10sec timed shots were very tough, but I had some fun with it.

However, a couple of minutes of that would take more space and time than my computer or I have; we would all get dizzy; and it seams like something I want to save for a more Halloween inspired piece.

I came up with some melodies in A-flat, chose beautiful chords with my capo on the fourth fret, and yet nothing was coming together. I even started a page in my hardback The Musician’s Notebook: Deluxe Edition, titled it “Reflections in A flat major.” But blank those pages stay. Perfectionism is a curse. Nothing will ever be perfect.

I took my small, ornamental mirror into the bathroom, creating eternal reflections, then I remembered that the large mirror in the office closet wasn’t attached to the wall. It was heavier than I would have liked, but I shoved, slid, carried it into the closet where I was working. I had ideas to film myself moving the mirror while filming to create more and less eternal reflection with my eyes and feet around the mirror: naked to full costume was also an idea through all of these processes.

By this time I was stressing and hitting other deadlines and any one of my ideas would take another month. So this morning, I decided I had to let this reflections project go and do a project every other month and be happy for the inspiration.

But this evening, the world provided. And this panoramic image says it all.

Vision and Revision: a guest post by Jacob M. Appel

  Jacob M. Appel is an American author, poet, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Medical Education at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, where he is Director of Ethics Education in Psychiatry. He is also the author of four literary novels, nine short story collections, an essay collection, a cozy mystery, a thriller, a volume of poems and a compendium of medical dilemmas. 

 

 Vision and Revision

            Once I had the pleasure of chatting with a well-known sculptor whose preferred medium was marble—and I couldn’t resist asking her what happened if she made a mistake.  I had expected her to respond with an earnest observation about the planning required to prevent such a calamity: measuring with calipers, modeling in plaster, etc.  Instead, she laughed and replied, “Why do you think the Venus de Milo is missing her arms?”

Fortunately, writing is far more forgiving.   A loose plot line can always be tightened or a more original rhyme found to end a stanza.  Would-be authors are taught early on that Hemingway wrote forty-seven different endings to A Farewell to Arms and Fitzgerald continued to revise The Great Gatsby even after it had been typeset, that Auden had the audacity to alter “September 1, 1939” after publication and Moore grappled with the text of “Poetry” for five decades.  In contrast, writers publicly (although falsely) believed to eschew revision—Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara—are often derided accordingly.  One can still hear the disdain of Capote’s quip about Kerouac, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

In modern western culture, and particularly in the United States, revision has claimed a hallowed position.  Nearly every writing course I have encountered incorporates an emphasis upon revision, a belief that multiple drafts are essential to the writing process.  Maybe this reflects the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism, or the Edisonian notion that genius is 99% perspiration.  Unfortunately, many aspiring writers take the wrong message from these lessons.  It is certainly true that revision has a valuable place in the writing process.   However, that does not mean that vision isn’t also necessary.  Nor does it mean that, just because great works require revision, revision necessarily leads to great works.

Grace Paley frequently observed that she did her best writing in the bathtub.  Her point was not, of course, that she had to worry about getting soap suds on her writing pad.  Rather, she was suggesting that she thought through her stories in depth before she put pen to paper.  Having a sense of where you are going in advance helps you get there—both in life and on the page.  Anyone who has ever planned family vacations with young children surely knows this:  It is far wiser to book a hotel room at Disneyland or Yellowstone prior to departure than to hop into the station wagon and drive until one finds an appealing destination.   For John Wayne and a few inveterate literary explorers, the open road may be alluring.  For many writers, it is the sure path to hours before a blank computer screen.  That is not to say that a writer cannot change paths or make discoveries as she writes—for the creative mind, that is inevitable.   But choosing the Goldilocks moment to transfer words from one’s soul to one’s hand—not too soon, not too late—is one of the skills that separates the skilled writer from the amateur.   And, fortunately, it can be cultivated.

I urge my students to take time to reflect upon what they want to say, and how, long before they consider saying it.  It is easier to erase a sentence in one’s mind than on one’s parchment. (There are a few exceptions, like Dostoevsky, who managed to weave his revisions and even his mistakes seamlessly into his prose without any undoing.)  Either Will Rogers or Head & Shoulders once warned: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  That is as much true regarding the impression you make upon yourself as the impression that you make upon others.  Once you’ve committed yourself to a word or idea in print, you’ve often moored yourself to a particular course.  Needless to say, there are limits to how much one should wait before setting down your internal epics.   As either Aristotle or Voltaire or my Great Aunt Sadie once warned, “Don’t make the perfect an enemy of the good.”  But the good, thought through in advance, can prove the mortal foe of the mediocre.

A photograph of the hardcover of The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M. Appel

Jacob’s novelThe Mask of Sanity

The fetishization of revision often leads writers to forget one of the craft’s most important principles:  Quit while you’re behind.  I firmly believe that anyone with the passion and commitment can write valuable and inspiring poetry or fiction.   Yet that does not mean that every particular poem or story can be transformed into a work of value and inspiration.  Sometimes, the materials themselves don’t cohere:  the author had chosen the wrong structure or genre for this particular idea or the underlying plot simply isn’t compelling; other times, the material is worthwhile but the author is at the wrong point in her journey to share it most effectively.  Knowing whether a story or poem is working is a talent.   But recognizing whether a story or poem can work is a far more crucial skill.

So how does one know whether a story or poem can work?   One question to ask is whether, as you are writing, you find yourself with too many or too few ingredients.  An analogy I often share with my students is self-assembling an exercise bicycle—inevitably, one of life’s greatest challenges.   If you try multiple times and find yourself with excess parts and wheels that don’t spin, or too few parts and a hollow pole for a seat, you might consider repackaging and returning to the supplier.  The same is true with writing.  Sometimes, the pieces just don’t fit together.  Accept that.  Move on.  Live to fight another day.  I say this as a writer who has spent thousands of hours writing manuscripts that should have been scrapped after fifteen minutes.  Revision is often necessary, but it is rarely sufficient.  No writer wants to be lauded as a “revisionary.”

It has become a trope in creative writing to place original drafts and revisions of famous works side by side to admire the radical changes imposed by the authors between drafts.  That is often a rewarding exercise.   But I exhort students that they should admire the vision of the original as well.  Exceptions do exist:  The Ray Carver-Gordon Lish Complex, for instance.  (Editor Gordon Lish is often credited with line editing Carver’s stories to create the spare, crystalline prose we now know as Carveresque.)  Yet it is usually the magic of the original draft that still enchants in the final form.

Revision, in other words, is an essential tool—but it shouldn’t be a crutch.  I am very wary of writers who plan on revisions at the outset, of students who assure me, “I’ll fix that later.”  To my thinking, that is like planning for a second marriage at your first wedding.  The responsibility of the writer is to get it right the first time.  And then, in the revision, to get it even righter.

Oral Poetry: Trying a new writing process

The Poetics challenge from Ingrid at dVerse Poets Pub is to write a poem without writing it down. This intrigued me and sounded like a great way to start exploring some ideas for this month’s Changing Focus project around the theme “reflections.”

I thought I’d share this vocal warm-up I like to do before recording (because it’s fun):

Yesterday, I discovered that the bass effects pedal I’ve had for many years, has a built in drum machine, so hold onto your hats world.

Focus on Reflections words and music by Maria L. Berg

Focus on Reflections

I face a self-imposed focus
on reflections
a month of looking
of looking in mirrors
looking at me

not turning away
looking further
and deeper
finding the deep waters
past the imperfections

What will I find there?
What does reflection
smell like? What is its
taste? How will I get to
the point where I
only see what I like?

All those flaws
become only a reflection
only the light
hitting a chip in the mirror
everything reflects light
all we see is a reflection


*That was an interesting experience. After finding a drum beat and recording the drum and bass. I played it back while saying lines to the room. When I felt like the concept was flowing, I recorded myself, then typed up what I said as if transcribing. That was fun. I think I’ll play with that a lot.

Cover of The Cynic in Extremis, a poetry collection by Jacob M. Appel. There is a picture of a grumpy looking pug wrapped in a furry blanket.

I hope all of you will come by this Thursday, Sept. 2, and read a special guest post about revision by Jacob M. Appel. I recently enjoyed his poetry collection, The Cynic in Extremis. I found it both entertaining and provocative.

Pathways: a video, music, and poetry project

Update 9/2/2021: After enjoying all the oral poetry for the Poetics prompt this week, I thought the poets of dVerse Poets Pub might enjoy this for Open Link Night. I hope you will check out today’s special guest post from Jacob M. Appel on revision as well.

Here it is! My response to wRightingMyLife‘s Changing Focus monthly blogging challenge. The theme was Pathways.

I’ve wanted to try something that combines music, photography, and writing for a while, so this was a great inspiration to give it a try. This first effort was a bit rushed ( I happened upon the challenge halfway through the month), but I had a lot of fun with it and learned a lot.

While putting together the video, I learned how to do some animations with my photographs (haven’t figured out how to use them with my video editing software yet), and learned some techniques for combining motion and still photography.

Recording myself reading my poems was great practice. While practicing, some revisions and edits became obvious.

Writing music to go with the visuals and poetry was very challenging. Many of my ideas just wouldn’t work. I went through days of discarding recordings, but finally came up with the feel of pathways I was going for.

September’s theme is Reflections. I have a lot of reflection to do about my Pathways project. 😉

A Lucky Stream of Consciousness

This year’s Writer’s Games are over. I’m happy to say that one of my stories placed third in its event, so it will be published in the anthology. My first publication this year. Woohoo! This is the first Saturday I’m not working on a story, and am excited to have a Stream of Consciousness Saturday. The theme for today is Luck. Here’s a sample of my stream of consciousness writing on luck in my journal this morning:

“I’m still in disbelief of how unlucky, and lucky, I was yesterday. A simple act of gravity could have been a complete tragedy, but turned out fine. Talk about drama: hot water pouring over a frozen banana in the sink, I step out to get mint, and not wanting bugs to get in, close the sliding door behind me, but the house and gravity conspired, and the hinged bar fell. The door wouldn’t budge. At least I know that little bar does its job keeping people out, but I lock all my doors and windows at all times, so I was screwed. But luck was on my side. I still can’t believe how lucky I felt when the shop door opened. Maybe I wasn’t sure kitty wanted to stay in, so I didn’t lock it after I watered, or if he opened it telepathically, but somehow his recent choice to spend these hot, smoky days in the shop saved me, and the house. It was such a bit of luck, it felt spiritual, supernatural. Luck favors the prepared, but I was not prepared. Once I was back in the house, and had taken many deep breaths, I made the connection that it was Friday the 13th. It had never been a date I paid much attention to before. I wonder if I will take notice and act differently the next time.”

Maria L. Berg

Looking through my WordPress Reader, I lucked into a cluster of Flower of the Day posts: Zombie Flamingos’ black and white response to Cee’s Flower a Day challenge, inspired me to go out and try a black and white flower photo. I love it! And lalalaMonique has a flower a day challenge in which she draws a flower each day. I think I’ll combine all three (though I ignored Cee’s dahlia prompt).

Stumbling upon Cee’s flower-a-day was also lucky because the site has lists of all sorts of challenges. Because I want to focus on recording music on the weekends, I took a look at her list of Music Challenges. I like the blogging challenge idea at wRightingMyLife because it combines writing, photography, and music which is something I want to do. The theme this month is “Pathways.” Luck and pathways go together well.

My overgrown path almost plum-ripe

Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie has something called Lucky Dip which today is a poetry prompt to write a Nonet which is a nine line diminishing syllables poem.

Fickle Luck

When all is shiny and bright as gold
the path ahead clearly unfolds
a gentle ease fills the day
no blockades in the way
birdsong fills the air
not a blister
or ache. We
call it
luck

When all is dark, and hope has run out
everything tried fails, leaving doubt
dare not ask what could go wrong
dread makes the day too long
chainsaws scream a dirge
the next turn will
be worse. We
call it
luck

And talk about lucky! I made the last of my quinoa, not sure what to eat with it, and just before I threw out the bag, I noticed a recipe on the back for Blueberry and Feta Quinoa Salad. And I had all the ingredients (except for cucumber). Delicious!

Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Eight: Revise, Get Feedback, Revise Again

Revise

After looking at all my redrafts, I made a few more changes to my poem and was about to upload it to Scribophile, when I saw that in this version the poem read in couplets. Here is the version I uploaded to Scribophile for critique:

Cleaning All the Dirty Dishes

An impression arrests fruit flies in kitchen sinks full of ideas
frozen mid-irritation, like tinnitus introducing dizzying, swirling vertigo

after the ground falls away, my arms and my dress fly above my head
my pinky toe the stoical point, stepping out of the spiral my view telescopes

to his sweat on her body behind the bale
as if finally finding the source of wafting, permeating decay

Contentment empties glue of flavor and steals scissors of artistry
but constant irritation and itching desire keep me in motion

juggling stomach stones, insatiable hunger clacks and clicks
what indelible marks will topple to the tongue?

With nothing I’ve left, clean of any sticky coating
the bridge burner can’t choose to turn around

Refreshment wriggles among the moles under the tent of solitude
having vacated the house with ideas, but left the kitchen sink to fruit flies

fleeing obscures crackling and smoke, suffering the charred frame
his erasable touches won’t last past the first rain

the dark, fresh-earth tunnels adumbrate curious spaces for thought
where scraping, not smoothing, may nourish new understanding

The Feedback

The first two critiques I received said I should work on the punctuation in the poem. Though I disagreed with the example suggestions, I did find the suggestion interesting. So playing with some more punctuation is a note for the next revision.

I was also offered an interesting word replacement. A reader suggested using “inducing” instead of “introducing” vertigo. My original idea was that tinnitus is like the arresting impression because it acts like an announcer, an MC at an event introducing the next act, announcing the star entertainer, Vertigo, hushing, stilling the crowd in expectation and respect. Though I like the word “inducing,” tinnitus doesn’t exactly “induce” vertigo, they are both separate symptoms. Maybe I want to play around with MC Tennitus and capitalize Vertigo, or look for a different word than “introducing” to clarify my idea.

One critique suggested that the flow from the kitchen to the tent of solitude is unclear which opened my eyes to re-arranging stanzas. And another critique mentioned the distance of the point of view at the beginning not drawing the reader in.

Revise Again

Based on the encouraging and constructive feedback I received from readers on Scribophile, my revision plan is:

  1. Read aloud, paying close attention to pauses and breaks thinking about punctuation
  2. weigh each word and ask if there’s a better one
  3. try the stanzas in different orders for narrative flow
  4. Try more intimate, closer opening

The Final Comparison

Original / Final (revised after critique)

Conclusions

This series of posts on revising poetry has been a great experience for me. I finally got my head around meter and its vocabulary after trying many times before. I love the tools and resources I collected and all of the poems and poets I discovered along the way.

Exploring my poetry revision process with you has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities for redrafts. One of the important revision steps after reviewing a poem is to decide which redrafting techniques will most improve the poem.

I found this great article by Suzanne Langlois: Poetry Revision Bingo, and designed a bingo card for myself with my redrafting techniques in the squares.

Next Steps

Inspired by The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics edited by Diane Lockward, I have turned my attention to creating a poetry collection. I hope you will join me on my adventure as I explore my themes, and share what I learn, as I put together and submit a poetry manuscript.

Dactyls Dactyls Everywhere: not a ptero in sight.

Edward Okun – Walc Chopina (Wikimedia Commons)

Conviviality

dance to the, dance to the
music of Chopin and
waltz with me, waltz with me
round a nice fantasy
keep up appearances
sentimentalities
backhanded compliments
blacking out promises

dance with me, dance with me
turning me endlessly
waltz to the, waltz to the
mockingbird murmuring
visitors’ vanities
blushing with jealousy
echoing, echoing
over the
wonderful fantasy

At the Moulin Rouge: Two women waltzing by Toulouse-Lautrec (Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s Meet the bar prompt at dVerse Poets Pub is to take a look at the waltz. I took this as inspiration to attempt a poem in dactylic meter. Dactyls are feet that are three syllables with the first syllable stressed, or long short short like a waltz.

Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Five: New Redrafting Ideas

image of notebook and marked-up poem through a blue lens
The Poem in Blue by Maria L. Berg 2021

The dVerse Poets Pub prompt for Poetics is Blue Tuesday. Sarah challenges us to write Blue poems which gave me an idea for another redraft, “Put a color on it.” This a great way to think about revising to emotion as well. When you’ve identified the mood and emotion you want your poem to convey, ask yourself what color that is and use that color as a filter for redrafting your poem. The Sherwin-Williams paint colors site is a great tool for exploring color families and color names.

Put a color on it

For this poem, I imagined using a blue lens on my camera and using it to tint my poem. I used some of the draft from the thesaurus game below and made it blue.

Seeing in Blue

An atmospheric perception after the rain
in the steam of warm rain
captures contrary smoky-azurite wings
those wings just can’t agree
pulsating rhythmic reflections in a poll
the rhythm’s inverted beats
in a pool’s still, faded-flaxflower waters

Rapture jammed with glacial conceits
fancy whims chilling beneath
mid-cloudburst like ebbtide in advance
it will advance the tide
of the swimming, sense of falling
falling, falling into this dive
maneuvering eviction from a wondrous whirlpool

The outlook grows lake-water crisp
Ow! It bites, clarity
after a meditative rainstorm’s punctuation
all those taps, droppy drips
untimately leads to discovering the fountain,
finally find, what’s to find
transmitting blissful moonmist

image of rhododendrons through a blue lens
Seeing Blue by Maria L. Berg 2021

I thought of a couple more quick and easy redrafting techniques over the weekend. I am a huge fan of my thesaurus and thought what fun it would be to use my thesaurus to come up with replacements for all of the main nouns and verbs. I’ll call this exercise Thesaurus Game.

Thesaurus Game

Here’s what I came up with using the first stanza of the original short-centered line poem “Indelible Marks” for demonstration:

Permanent Symbols

a perception captures contrary wings
flittering in range of a basin’s elbowroom

jammed with glacial conceits mid-provocation
like ear-ringing in advance of the swimming,
sense of falling, maneuvering eviction from a coil

the outlook grows crisp as if ultimately discovering
the fountain transporting pervading corruption saturation

While reading the Back Draft:John Murillo interview, the two versions of “Mercy, Mercy Me” made me think of another, somewhat simple redraft I can do. I can turn it upside down. I think I will add that to my process at the beginning of redrafting.

Turn It Upside-Down

When I took the full, long lines of the current draft and turned them upside down, I didn’t find a lot of inspiration, but when I took the short, centered lines and turned them upside down, I found some interesting lines. That inspired me to completely reverse the words which also revealed some interesting lines.

Drag center line to the right or left to reveal each poem

This comparison block makes me happy! I liked how Back Draft on Guernica was comparing their first draft and final draft poems using JuxtaposeJS, so I created a Juxtapose on the knightlab site, but the HTML wasn’t working with WordPress. I found a work-around which included downloading a plug-in and writing more HTML, and I was planning on trying it for the final poem reveal, but now I don’t have to. Yay for comparison block. Thank you WordPress.

Thinking about the smell of beautiful mistakes

Today I spent some time finding new poetry resources and sites to follow. I found a lot of prompts for today, but two stood out and I thought I would combine them (as I like to do) and write a poem.

The first is the Sunday Writing Prompt from Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The prompt is “Beautiful Mistake.”

The second is PROMPT #333 from Poetic Bloomings which is “Sweet Smell of Success.”

photograph of camellias by the NaPoWriMo poster
a beautiful mistake like this sun glare

A Beautiful Mistake Recognizes the Smell of Success

Beauty asks bubbles on a wire to interrupt
the ugly lips in the oven entertaining
a mistake exudes the middle thumb, wondering
while perfection glues pests to lenses on command
Success smells like powdered teeth complaining
that failure belongs as blinking noise

Revising Poetry-a Demonstration Part Four: More Redrafting

A highlighted poem and a container full of chopped up phrases

Preparing for today’s redrafting

After all my redrafts, I plan to make my final choices and send a draft off for some feedback. I plan to try both Scribophile and Poetry Free for All. Both of these sites expect you to give feedback before you post asking for feedback, so I thought I would get started. The main writing page of Scribophile is mostly novel excerpts and short stories, however, I found active poetry groups, joined, and gave some feedback. I joined Poetry as Craft and Poetry Critique Circle.

I took a look at The Poetry Free-for-all, but I think I’ll see what happens with Scribophile first. I like the inline critique format there.

Quick Review

I started the day by printing all of the drafts so far to get a good look at the choices I’ve made. Through free-writing, mind-mapping, and writing a narrative poem, I was inspired to make some large changes to the first two stanzas.

I played with form. I tried past tense. I played the opposites game to come up with an opposite poem, and I combined the opposite lines with the original. Let’s keep going.

Cut each line in half. Write a new beginning and/or ending for each line.

I’m going to go ahead and use the final poem from my last post that included the opposite lines for this draft. As I read through, separating each line, I decided to put my arsonist line and its opposite back in to play. I broke some of the longer lines into four parts. I’m using lines and ideas from my narrative poem to fill in some of the lines which I think is working well.

A Fruit Fly-Sized Thought Changes Everything

An impression arrests fruit flies mid-flight, specks in eye corners before the cracked pane
among the pitiful, stained porcelain in kitchen sinks full of ideas frozen mid-irritation
An ignored cry for attention like reddened, sore hands scouring or tinnitis of Meniere’s
recognized or diagnosed frees a cougar from a shower of ineptitude
leaping from empty thought on fire before dizzying vertigo
while in fruitless and futile meditation, I don’t hear the tractor
like hearing you clearly, I step from my spiraling
a voice of truth whispers from miles away
the view becomes clear, his sweat on her behind the bale
as if finally finding the source, the teasing hidden cruelty of wafting, permeating decay
after the ground falls away and I embrace the free-fall
letting my arms, and my dress, fly freely above my head, my pinky-toe the stoicism of a point
a heart slammed closed kills confusion, how small my worries, each a fruit fly in the sink
A solution, so long obscured by chores and basic needs, unlike instantly losing
a copy of each daily exercise toward demise
over the vast, yellowed field of placid, dry existence

Contentment empties the song of passion, the hips of sway
what good is the stick in rubber cement if it leeches the glue of flavor?
time steals the scissors, so sharp and shiny, sheathed in brown leather, treasured
and hides them whenever desperately needed for artistry
Restlessness fills pockets with bland slime, lacking sparkle or elasticity, only a blob with weight
like a stomach full of rocks someone who gifts some screwdrivers of incompetence
but constant irritation and itching desire keep me in motion
juggling the stomach rocks though insatiable hunger remains
creating irregular comfort, making a pet of each stone swallowed
though the scratched, tender throat needs be constantly quenched
with clarity, I drink the elixir truth brings, purple and sweet as grape Kool-Aid
I set the faded flower curtains aflame, a self-fulfilling responsibility
the arsonist of bridges, can’t choose to turn around
with nothing I’ve left, clean of any sticky coating
a fire fighter for chasms needs a very long hose
the charred frame remains absent everything you’ve saved
fleeing obscures the crackling and the smoke
the path ahead holds the divots and clawing roots of many whims
what indelible marks will stay on my raw skin?
which curses will topple to the tongue?
your erasable touches won’t last through the first rain
and I’ll take with me this lesson~stand away from an ass

Refreshment wriggles like worms in the garden
blindly boring among the moles making mountains
under the tent, my temporary shelter of turquoise and lilac, not offering camouflage against the deep forest greens
however, its thin nylon walls offer the illusion of solitude
Thirst sits in the grass picking dandelions and dreaming
so far, I am camping, not homeless
having vacated the house without a plan
knowing there is no way back, but clutching ideas
I left the kitchen sink, the burning curtains, the cracked pane, and him to the fruit flies
refusing to leave a wildness, the definition of me, to putridity
I let go of the nonsense of conformity to expectation
and a singular route with blinders forcing my way
choosing instead the claws in the paws of the freshly showered cougar
the dark, fresh-earth mole tunnels full of worms and beetles and ants and spiders under my tent
filter and aerate the earth like new and curious spaces for contemplation
a beam of light breaks through thick fir canopy revealing a clutch of rabbits in the brush
destroying any old or bored blanks of not thinking
these bunnies crawling, not seeing, as they emerge from an underground nest
inspire me to try varying perspectives, to look from under and from high above,
perspectives that may nourish new understanding
here, walking vision, I face fears to love myself again
this fresh hunger will not feed old stubbornness

-Wow. That was great! So many new and interesting lines. If only a couple work with the poem, that’s gravy. The rest may make their way into other poems. I’m going to print this and start highlighting my favorite lines.

Choose the best lines and free-write. Dig down, find the deeper meaning.

As I went through, I did some quick editing and the lines I chose to explore further are:

  • after the ground falls away and I embrace free-fall, letting my arms and my dress, fly above my head, my pinky-toe the stoical point
  • a heart slammed closed kills confusion
  • but constant irritation and itching desire keep me in motion, juggling stomach rocks, insatiable hunger remains
  • your erasable touches won’t last past the first rain

An excerpt from my free-write:

I think some of the new lines work in the original poem. I now have a kill my darlings dilemma with the first line of the second stanza, they both work, but she’s thinking about her own artistry and skill being wasted, not any passion she once felt for him. So I’ll save songs and hips for something else. I think the lines of the ground falling away and telescoping view go well with vertigo, so I’m going to try them with the first stanza. What about that pinky-toe at a stoical point? That works with the next line, stepping out of the spiral, so it’s the tether that pulls her out.

~Maria L. Berg’s journal

Use the best line as the beginning of a new poem

I was going to combine this with “Force into a Form” in the next post, but while I was free-writing, it just happened. I really like the line “A heart slammed closed kills confusion,” but it doesn’t really fit with the original poem as is. As I started to write about it here’s what I wrote:

A heart slammed closed kills confusion

-maybe breaks confusion’s tiny bones
breaking the what ifs, grinding the what could bes
to dust, scattering the woulda-couldas to the corners
or into the dark waters, but not collecting them
in an urn, on the mantel, or planting them
among mycelium. No.
This death is final, sealed in a crypt
where the rock can’t be rolled away
on any third day.

Cut up and create a collage poem

I enjoy doing collage poems. For this one, I’m going to cut up everything I printed this morning, put all of the short phrases (two or three words) into a container and start pulling them out randomly. I already have pages set up in a notebook for this and these cool glue pens.

Next Steps

There are two more redrafting exercises I want to explore for the next post. I think we’ve already covered “Expand, write past the ending, and I think I’ll combine “Tighten, to it’s most succinct telling” with “Force into a form.”

Force into a form, or change from formal form to free verse.

Though this poem started in a form, it is a form of my invention, so at this point, it may help to play with some other forms, specifically some rhyming and line repetition forms. For this experiment, I took a look back through my OctPoWriMo 2020 posts and decided on:

Trolaan

Synchronicity

Ottava Rima

Nove Otto

In my post Relax and Process from last October, I tried an exercise called Channeling Emotion. This made me think of something to add to the Review process. Right after moods and themes, we should identify the emotions: both the emotions in the poem and also the emotion you feel when you read it. These are important things to identify during the review because we may want to revise to bring out these emotions.

Emulate another poem or poet

A while ago, I went through all of my copies of the New Yorker and Poets & Writers and picked out my favorite poems.

For this exercise, I chose Dead Stars by Ada Limon, Ode by Jane Huffman, and News by Ben Purkert. Before deciding how I want to emulate these poems, I want to know more about them.

For Dead Stars, there’s an interview in the Poets & Writers issue before the poem. I found this fun “Teach This Poem” post at poets.org which mentions this video:

Jane Huffman is the Editor of Guesthouse Literary Journal. I highly recommend taking a look at the Foreward to Issue 7. It’s full of amazing images and discusses the content of the issue.

This is super-fun! Ben Purkert has a Process page on his website where he links to Back Draft which is an interview series focused on revision he does for Geurnica.

I had no idea that looking into these three poems would open such a vast world before me. I have a lot to do before my next post.