I just rewrote the poem I started yesterday, updated the TOC in the new manuscript, and yawned. Am I running out of steam?
I have decided to start this record of my one month between-teaching assignments that I have dedicated to writing at home. The flow and movement of prose will keep me going. Recording my progress will keep me honest. Thinking will order my thoughts.
My at-home “residency” is modeled on residencies I’ve attended in Virginia and Vermont. There is no attending one at this time. I don’t have money or time, and frankly, I don’t have the desire. I live in a perfectly beautiful spot in west county, Sonoma, California. The blackberries are ripe, and the heirloom tomatoes are coming in. Last year around this time I underwent open-heart surgery. Recovery was no picnic—I missed two weeks of August and a good part of September. Who knows how much more time I’ll be given?
My husband John is here. He’s no Véra Nabokov, but he takes my commitment seriously and makes an effort to keep up his end. He fixes coffee in the morning, puts dishes in the dishwasher, and will vacuum when asked—eventually.
At home, I don’t have to worry about being older than everybody else, I’m not laughed at for relating a dream, and I don’t have problems connecting to the Internet. My room isn’t too hot or cold, and I don’t have to go far in search of a cup of tea. Oh, and I can drink my glass of wine at night without raising eyebrows.
Well then, that’s enough justification for day two. Back to the poems.
I thought about how to go about this. Do I want to set a goal of X number of poems before the residency is over? Do I write for so many hours a day or a week? I spent some time today reading about sonnets in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics. Is that allowed?
The truth is, as long as the general idea of writing is honored, I’m okay with how it happens. I don’t do well with authority, even my own. This isn’t boot camp. I’m pretty sure I’ll accomplish more letting the mind wander, as long as the butt stays in one place.
And that’s my modus operandi, anyway. I putter around a poem. I use peripheral vision. Staring straight at a poem can scare it, make it hide, shelter. I catch it when it doesn’t expect me and approach it gently, take little bites with very sharp teeth.
I set myself to work at copying (in mode, mood, and verb tense) Bob Hass’s “The Apple Trees of Olema,” My poem, “West County, Evening Light” is no miracle but I’m happy with the result for one day.
A little tortoise and hare at work here. I had so much success the first four days, and this morning had so much time—that I have not accomplished anything.
I’ve been at it for one week. I’ve gotten lax. I thought it might be helpful to know more about Joan of Arc’s visions and voices for “Vacant Lot.” I didn’t have to spend half an hour reading about the Maid of Orleans.
Two lines of a prose poem left open on the computer invite an instant edit.
Child is sitting on a curb taking apart micronite filters of Kent cigarettes.
She inhales the diesel exhaust of the bus (passing gas?).
It becomes this:
Dolores sits on the curb, dismantling Kent Micronite filters. She inhales the diesel exhaust. She puts a butt to her lips.
Let’s forget for a moment whether these are improvements. The fact is, I did not take time to refine those lines when they hit the page. In the editing pass, the changes were obvious.
Surely this is time to think about whether this “residency” is a third filled or two-thirds empty.
Again I’m sleepy. Nap taken and strong cup of tea and still not anything written.
I just looked at the guidelines for the X prize. But my ms. is personal, not on fire with causes. It is feminist, but even that is subtle, and anyway, the judge is male.
Just finished the essay, and I feel good. It’s a tad short, but only a tad.
Meanwhile, two people I know had poems taken by The New Yorker.
Was not able to sleep last night. New poem, pretty painless labor. Sometimes being tired helps to not overthink.
Sent out the “Pacemaker” poem. Have not done much else, and it’s almost 3:00.
I’m looking at “Writers on Writing” on Passages North and delve into Lacey Rowland’s “Writing # 105.” She notes: “Sir Isaac Newton was so devoted to his work, that in order to understand how we see color, he stuck a needle in his eyeball.” I want to use this (NOT DO THIS).
Finished poem on shoplifting last night; just re-fashioned it entirely.
Meanwhile, I’ve gone in an exciting new direction, one that Jane Vandenburgh’s Architecture of a Novel suddenly made possible. And so I actually wrote 166 words. But I think I’d better wait before proclaiming that I’m writing a novel.
I was all set to send a poem to West Branch, when I noticed a misspelling. All well and good—I fixed that, although they’ll reject my work, regardless. But I sent that poem out twice yesterday!
Well, the errors have been fixed, fires out.
Tried translating the new poem to French and back in order to up the ante, but it didn’t work. And now it’s past 2:00 and the afternoon is spread out like a patient etherized upon a table.
I worked all afternoon on small revisions.
It’s 3:30. I’ve been busy doing writing-related things—put some deadlines on the calendar and did one submission—but not putting words on the page.
Another rejection. I want to bang my head against the wall to make the other pain feel better.
Okay, I wrote a bit of a poem, Dylanesque, with a bouncy rhythm that has me somewhat boxed in. We’ll call it an exercise.
Today is no good. I’m absolutely useless. I don’t know where to go with the narrative. It doesn’t really interest me. I feel dead but not yet buried.
I went out and picked beans, baby carrots, a half dozen strawberries, one tomato.
Feel a bit better. Today, I’m not going to get caught in a cat’s cradle of words.
A jot in my journal recalls the night we girls snuck out of our motel room and hung out in Harvard Square. Flash fiction?
Having no time is injurious to the writing. Having all the time is too: I did this, I did that.
I promised I’d stop the day before John’s birthday. That’s Friday, and today is Tuesday. And today started with two rejections.
John is out, taking the gallery director to lunch, which inspired me to write a poem like Robert’s on jealousy. The best part about my writing a sonnet is the fourteen lines, a very comfortable length for me.
My DIAGRAM poem went up today. I like that.
Have stopped focusing on my writing in order to clean house for John’s birthday. In the meantime, I have tallied what I’ve accomplished:
Completely new poems 9
Completely revised poems 4
Somewhat revised poems a lot
Failures / incomplete / abandoned poems 4
- 2 improved
- 3 started
Essays 2.5 (and three revisions)
Longform 2000+ words + research
I’ve been trying to find a home for my essay since XYZ rejected it: “Your piece is beautifully written, but it’s not quite right for us.” (I’m so beyond the Kenyon Review poems that have come out today.)
After lunch, I read around, distractedly. It’s very hot.
Lepore’s Jane Franklin book relates that when Abigail Adams asked John Adams to “remember the ladies,” he basically answered you’ve got to be kidding. Here we are 250 years later, and the universe gives us Donald Trump.
Somehow I stumble on a New Yorker article to use as a poem epigraph. The poem has already gone in four directions.
Comment from my own journal:
A new poem. John is happy with the compression on his Triumph.
Bella is happy that John is home.
Woke up this morning to sound of geese flying south.…
Also, I know where to go with the longform.
Today I went in to shower and came out to a manuscript rejection from XX, “We truly found a great deal to admire in your work, but ultimately decided not to pursue it further.”
I’d like this diary to have a brilliant ending, if only I could think of one. Almost six. Time for a drink and to feed the dog.
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