Aftermath has been one of my favorite words ever since I purchased the Rolling Stones album Aftermath in the mid-1970’s. But as I write these words, I realize I may never have used it before; though I must have, somewhere.
November was a busy month. Not only did I start my seventh novel, but I also wrote 33 poems in Robert Lee Brewer’s Chapbook Challenge 2016. I remind myself that such events at not about quality; that quality writing is achieved by much rework. I know from experience that creating a good novel takes at least two years of steady work. I am also learning that published poets can take as long or longer to become satisfied with their poems. I am trying to feel neither good nor bad about either. Simply watching a local MFA poet work and rework her poems every Sunday morning and never seeming to see lights in her tunnels tells me I have to rethink my poetry writing processes.
I usually write my poems very quickly: take the prompt, try writing some lines until one sticks, build on it, and then make a few passes at it. This month as I wrote every morning I felt the urge to develop a poem-writing process. I have prose-writing processes, somewhat, and I will blog about them someday, but my poetry writing routine was too thin.
My searching first brought me to this interesting video. Some guy named Spectre walks us through his writing steps. He writes simple, straightforward lines. His first example is
My Video Games
I can beat it
Lt’s like a friend to me
It never refuses my progress
It’s not a poem but random thoughts, a random outline for a poem. He then beefs up each line:
Excitement for me
I triumph at it
It’s like a friend to me
That’s always prepare to go
And a bell went off in my head. This was around the middle of November, and since then, I’ve written such outlines for most of my poems and I am sold on this technique.
I was not pleased with Spectre’s randomness, though. If I take any subject and write lines as they come to me, I know very well I am going to miss things. I am only going to write what my active brain has access to. I have learned that prompting the brain can trigger ideas that such a focused exercise would never dream up. I searched for guidance and found it at this site. It is not so much poetry guidance a it is description guidance: a checklist for describing objects. I won’t go into detail here, but I began taking my chosen subjects: objects, ideas, situations, etc., and applied this checklist too them and wrote as simple sentences as I could.
One of the interesting side effects was that poetic lines would pop into my head. There is one truth I know about prose I did not freely acknowledge in poetry, and it is something I have already stated: the more you write about something, the more ideas flow on to the page, about the subject and about other subjects. I don’t know which poems they were, but on some days I’d end up writing about something completely different than my initial title. And it may not be a direct offshoot. Sometimes writing one thing triggers a second thing which triggers a third thing and so on, very similar to lateral brainstorming. And there is a host of brainstorming techniques that can probably all be applied to poetry writing.
I also read a now favorite poet I did not expect to become a favorite poet: Anne Compton. I read her Governor General Award winning Processional, and I loved it. I found her words and her style spoke to me, and I think some of my poems this month emulated her style. I can’t say much about her writing except that my enjoyment and sympathy came at the exact best time, as I was making forward progress in my own writing. Her book was gas on the fire. And I found myself exploring writing advice and processes online. A discovered a particularly important tidbit at Philosophy and Nonsense where the author suggests, begin and end each line with a strong word. I highlight his line because I think it is so true.
So I left November feeling much better about writing poetry: that I was finally starting to understand what I was doing and had created paths for getting there. I was largely happy with my poems for the month, and have been working at assembling a Chapbook to submit to Robert for his adjudication.
Here are a couple of poems I wrote which I used these new techniques to write.
It’s mine and will be, until I decide it isn’t. Regardless of what I say
I know you still love me. It’s what you do.
I didn’t join the club. I was a charter member.
We all join, sooner or later. He gave us all free passes.
It’s bound to happen. You don’t fold your hands.
You withhold your grace. Did you ever think of what I might have said?
Your wife is innocent. Be grateful for your love.
The girl is untarnished, so far. So much faith in righteousness.
The Sound of Money
He burlesques my musical ear
with his dollar store recorder
a pet rat under his hat
gives accusatory stares
You’re just a cheap bastard, but
I will play a song for you
I’ll pray a prayer, for us
for the offspring this world doesn’t need
He learned a new note
and it’s confused his song
can only play in tune on Saturdays
when the children are about
Here’s a free God Bless You
on your morning walk
salvation thrown away
He’s almost the Jay-suhs prototype:
blessed are the destitute
ye who inherit
the inability to clean
I feel sorry for you in your suit
I’ve never worn shoes that would polish
Could you survive my grave and
play the sounds of money?
Next post: the novel.