Happy Valentine’s Day!
If you are alone, as I am, this might not be such a hot day for you. What I do on solitary holidays, especially this one, is to try to give myself a good day. Self-love is very important, in a time when more than ever we are measured by our achievements and the company we keep.
I think today of women friends I have had for many years who have gone off into their lives, their busy-ness; sometimes it’s hard not to take it personally if those friends don’t write or call. Many of them have husbands, or have even become grandmothers, so that their lives are filled up with family.
In fact I don’t know too many 61 year old women semi-trapped in adolescence who are even thinking about V-day– except yours truly.
This morning as something of a valentine to myself, I worked on a manuscript of poems I hope to send out into the great equivocal void of literary publishing. I have a publisher in mind: why not start at the top after twenty plus years of sitting on my work….. I am captivated by the uniformly high quality of writing from this small press, and want to give it a try.
It’s not easy to work on such a book or any book. It involves long and solitary hours of winnowing through your entire canon and being hard on yourself, scrutinizing what may be archive boxes- full of mss for the very best.
Then, you consider an order to the manuscript. I’m a believer in sections for a small press book– around four seems good. In my view, starting out with the best work that announces your themes or the central theme of the book is best. It is incredibly easy these days to load a whole manuscript into one file and move things around until you feel that the book has taken shape. I now have a section of hopefully strong, tight poems setting the tone of the book, touching a little more gently on the themes of longing, loss, growing toward independence; a second section digs far deeper and there are quasi narrative poems there that address the tough issues; these soften a bit toward the end of the section and then I try to offset the heaviness of some of this work with poems that are both rich and tender, not incidentally about love and longing– that’s three sections, and then a fourth deals with resolution.
In the past month or so I’ve written a number of poems in which I’ve tried to let my hair down and write in poetic form but really let myself take emotional risks, working to use imagery that is powerful and original. I have no idea whether I’ve succeeded, but I gave it all a shot. I realized I’d been holding back, censoring myself to some extent. The two poems I like best are intimate in the sense that they are about a relationship I’ve been in for a very long time: I’ve tried to fully articulate the things that are the most problematic and therefore the most interesting and potentially universal: my feelings are strong which hopefully gives rise to the greatest lyricism and the most powerful imagery.
So much poetry these days seems to be terse, to hold back and be nearly devoid of feeling. It was extremely liberating to let go and say what I’ve longed to say for years. I set aside whether or not I might hurt anyone’s feelings or offend them. You have to, to write authentically about something. If a relationship has been painful and difficult, it seems important to reveal or show forth the hard truths about love, using the vehicle of personal experience. I have forewarned those involved: but poetry is not the place to sidestep personal truth.
Obviously, as I’ve stated in the first literary commentary I’ve posted on this blog which now has its own page, you don’t want to bleed all over everyone; some details are best set aside for the sake of illuminating, bringing to life, others.
There is always a danger in sending fresh work out into the world; I rarely do it, simply because time gives me perspective on whether a given piece has come together and is of sufficient quality, or whether it turns out to be something best put in a draft or journal file.
Years ago I woke in the middle of the night and wrote the title poem of my first collection, In Pursuit of the Family, published by Robert Bly and the Minnesota Writers Publishing House. I remember that the poem came all of a piece; I wrote furiously, with a flashlight, in the middle of a blizzard, on scraps of paper. I didn’t change much, maybe a few words or line breaks. My instinct that I had written something very good proved to be the case.
That is, in essence, how I feel about my newest work; my tendency is to immediately start trimming, revising, but the form and structure themselves are reflective of the untidiness of life between two people– I think that’s what I want, and actually now that I think about it, if these poems move even a handful people, even if I don’t grab that golden fleece of a contract, that will be enough for right now.
I’ve said several times here that after years of being out of the “scene” I am interested in sharing my work again in one way or another, and in midwifing the work that is good in my own view into the world. Wish me luck, just as I wish the same for you….
BTW: I would be interested in exchanging drafts and giving feedback.
Now, I am going to eat a sandwich and take a nap, and let myself be pampered a bit later on, by the love of dogs, a friendship. This doesn’t have to be a lonely or empty Valentine’s day. …