Thursday, January 14, 2021

confessions of a project poet


Years ago, I was not a project poet. I wrote poems like many poets, on capricious whims or under cover of dark.  Wrote poems, at first about sirens and witches and the history women were stuck in like flies in a web. Then later wrote poems about growing up in a tangle of corn silk and  strange divinations. Floods and fires. Faulty relationships and loneliness.  They were decent, solid poems, if occasionally overwrought and overthought, and these poems eventually made a couple chapbooks and a book (the fever almanac) when collected together and put in an order that made sense., the alchemy of which I am not sure I could work now.  It was like a sprawling mass of words that needed to be compartmentalized and ordered and it took a while to get it right.  And then a little longer to come into the world.  This was one way to make a book and it was the sort of book I probably (though never say never) will not compile again. 

By the time it came round to book #2, I was a different sort of poet, and I'm pretty sure the development stemmed from my forging a parallel path in working visually--at that point mostly collages and some installation work. Like with a painting or assemblage, I tend to write or work in series.  Sometimes smaller or sometimes larger, but each dependent on the others for context, and for the past decade or so, a whole that includes both text and image. I wrote more, waited for inspiration a lot less, each project a working toward something (even if not always getting there).  There were poems about my obsession with Joseph Cornell.  With vanishing hitchiker legends and victorian stereotypes. Later, an entire manuscript about sideshows and circus women.  A strange little suburban fairytale.  Rather than the cover of night, these were by-day poems and a sort of work, much like running drills or experiments. I would show up and produce a new piece in the series, a new fragment of a puzzle. Eventually those individual projects might start to speak to and within each other, and then there would be a book.

The other day, I was thinking about endurance for longer project, and why, since the shared properties, I don't seem to have it.  It may be an attention thing (though I did just realize that the longest single thing I've written recently is probably the poets zodiac at 48 pages, but it took a while to get them finished after I committed to the project.)  Otherwise, the series tend to top out around 20 pieces or less and I'm ready to move to the next thing.  There are a number of book projects in the mix, but all of them are made up of smaller parts, so it's been a  while since I committed to a long haul. Even things I imagined might be longer sometimes, after some taming, wind up shorter. (this happened recently with unusual creatures and a couple years back with the Plath centos (I went a little crazy, but no much was chaffe.). It kind of makes me want to attempt something a little longer (not like novel longer. but full length longer.)  It would have to be something with a lot of angles and greater depth and breadth, and among the projects on my radar, I'm not sure if any of them are right, but we'll see what happens. 


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