Monday, December 21, 2020

notes on process

Sometimes, I think there are two kinds of poets. Or that poets can be one of two kinds of writers. I used to be one and not so much of the other. Now, I am the other, though not quite so rigid..  Some poets will swear that one must wait to moved to write, to be inspired. I always watched these poets with a certain amount of curiosity, wondering if, and when the muse struck, how was it to be forced to stop, to sit down, to pay attention, since attention seems to be the hardest part. Room for the sort of attention one must pay.  And yet some poets work this way, sometimes producing the most interesting work.  I am not that poet. 

No, even before, most of my time in inspiration time was collecting.  I would go about my daily routine,riding the bus downtown, eating lunch, shuffling books around the library, but always scribbling notes and ideas--on paper, on catalog cards, in notebooks, and the backs of work forms. Eventually I would sit down and write five poems in a sitting, culling and building from the notes.  There might be days between sessions, several might happen in a week and then nothing for months. And I was reasonably productive, though sometimes life could easily get in the way and I'd lose the better part of a year to no-writing. I'd remind myself that even the note-taking, the research, the dreaming was "writing" in some ways, which kept me from feeling like a fraud.  Or that the work of writing also included the business of "being a poet"--writing blogs, social media, submitting, compiling grants, applying for things. 

All this too, was important, as well as the stillness of just observing and being present, though I felt more accomplished when the words were making it to the page and not just floating in the clouds above my head. I would dally on projects for years and then finish them in a weekend.  I would have long lists of things I wanted to write about, but was forever waiting for the door into them.  When it opened, I would politely step through, but never before. I would never rush it, or jump in before I felt ready, or "inspired" and while I wrote some books this way and got better as a poet, it was slower and more prone to fits and starts.

Around the beginning of 2018, I decided I was going to do NaPoWriMo, something which I had tried in previous years, but usually made it half way in and bottomed out.  I don't know what was different in 2018 that made me succeed.  Perhaps it when I was writing (at the top of my day instead of the end of it. ) Or that I had a good list of projects to plow through.  Or that I was spurred by a feeling of mortality after my mother's death that I would never write as much as I had words in me. Or maybe all of the above.   Whatever it was, I finished 30 poems/30 days and kept on going, through the summer and into fall.  Into winter, where I slowed a bit around the new year, but persisted, if not every day, then at least 3-4 days a week. Until I moved out, I would write over breakfast in the studio.  In summer,  I was at the library earlier in the day, I would draft a quick poem while drinking my coffee and before opening my e-mail and starting the day. At home, I wrote while I waited for the kettle to boil and then longer if needed.   Sometimes it took a half hour, sometimes I had a draft in 10 minutes.  On Saturdays, at home, I would regreoup and revise and see if I had something I could use. And most of the time I did. 

And while never what I would call "easy," writing did become easier.  Maybe not easier, but easier to show up to, which was sometimes half the battle in the early years.  And I got better..I think one has to, just by doing it more--like playing tennis or chess. Even if I only showed up a few times a week, I was still there and present in my writing life, which felt good and right and less like I was wasting time by not being engaged or working, whether or not it was producing anything that would become a poem or book.  Mostly the bad poems are like a missed shot or a thrown match, but there is something to be gained there, even if it were only harvested for parts. 

I still made notes, but instead of carrying them for months folded and refolded in a notebook, I turned them into poems immediately and threw out the endless scraps of paper. What I didn't use immediately, I would secure for later in my sketchbook.  Around the time the pandemic started, I wrote "collapsology" in the front of my sketchbook on a post-it, the study of how buildings fall, and this later became the title for the new manuscript as collapsologies, most of which was written during and shortly after quarantine Every time I switch sketchbooks, I move whatever is lingering into the new one, along with lists of ideas and things I might want to write about but don't yet know how to make it happen. 

As I finish my revisions on unusual creatures, I find myself in the strange free-fall of not knowing what is next and it's exciting but also a little scary. It's there somewhere, I just need to show up and find it.