Sunday, January 19, 2020

some notes on lost (& found) poems

As I mentioned last post, I have been delving a bit into older blog entries.  Unlike my old print journals that I plan to burn one day before I die, the blog provides a less embarrassing (mostly) view of the past 15 or so odd years.  As time passes you forget so much--things that happen, random thoughts, poems you wrote.  As I paged through 2006 and 2007, I found quite a few forgotten things--some written in that weird in between books time. Many later poems that would seemed to have fit better into the first book but seemed wrong for the second.  Others written as class exercizes--a forms class I took in 2006, and ekphrastic seminar I tool in 2007. Not of much use beyond their immediate gratification of the assignment.  Ballads, sonnets, elegies.

I used to have a super sound archiving system for poems, and in the drawers next to me even now, there are folders of poems, most of them never having or no longer existing in digital form.  There are the high school pieces scribbled on the same Lisa Frank stationery I used to write pen pals. More in that blue diary tucked somewhere. There are the college poems in another, thicker folder.  Some typed on the electric typewriter I got with my high school graduation money.  In some cases I kept the original handwriten draft on notebook paper, or a photocopied version I took to class. Some of them are dated with completion details, and many are from the time when I was writing awful rhyming poems, though I sometimes wonder if even awful, they helped me intuit rhythm and sound. They're mostly really bad--all pretty bad, but at least a few got me honorable mention for the Academy of American Poets Prize my final year.  Nevertheless, all of it was bad--overwrought, cliched, some rhyming (yikes).

The grad school folder is thicker, written between 1997 and 1999, these mostly still composed by hand, but then banged out on a word processor that was my best friend in those years. I was better at dating my drafts in real time--so they attest to that rise in output over the fall of 1998. There are things that surface there in later poem, the mythology, literary, and historical figures that appear in The Archaeologist's Daughter--Little Red Riding Hood, mermaids, Salem witches..  Some of the actual pieces held up even for that collection--poems on "Columbus", "Uncreation", "Undertow."  A remarkably large number of poems about literary figures, real or fictional--Guinevere, the Bronte sisters, Macbeth's wife, Romeo & Juliet, Sin from Paradise Lost (my first officially published piece). There are even multiple drafts of the same pieces reflecting revisions over time.

For a few years after, I was good at keeping yearly files, but eventually, those become more manuscript oriented. At some point I made an index of everything, but it too is not up to date past a certain point.  The 2001-2002 poems are mostly print outs of email saved work and online publication tear sheets, with a few scribbled drafts probably written while I was on the circ desk. As soon as I started my MFA program, there are randoms that never made it into books--a long hypertext sequence called the dream alphabets, a sensual poem incorporating Georgia O'Keefe and the North American Guide to Wildflowers.  Some are more promising than others--one called "High June" that is very WCW..a simple image of a girl and a wasp crawling through a hole punched through a screen door by her father. They are also erotic more than not, this being the years of wanton e-mails. Lush and filled even more than later work with birds and trees and just words like transatlantic, glancing, exoskeleton, wheelspoke, acoustics. 

                                            You were never more beautiful
                                           than when you were running away."
                                                                                     -the dream alphabets

By 2004, I was full manuscript compilation mode, so already things were coalescing into book projects.  The work from 2000-2004 mostly became the fever almanac, but with a few odd poems tucked in the chapbooks issued around that time.  What's interesting as I look at the files are moreso the things that never made it into the collections--the oddities, forgotten even by me. Written and discarded as trash, or written to fill an assignment but not interesting enough to carry forward. ...As I moved into grouping things by project, and no longer working by hand, many of these odds & ends might have been lost (( have no idea how many) but some still exist, only because I shared them on this blog.  The sonnets and ballads I wrote for class..a poem inspired by a Gregory Crewdson photo. BIts and pieces I can see as the rough material from which finer, more polished work came from.

At some point in my mad indexing, I counted exactly how many poems I had drafted in my lifetime and it was a lot...some of which I barely remember having written, but so any of which point to obsessions and future projects.

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