Wednesday, July 20, 2022

confessions of a project poet

A very long time ago, I was not a project poet. All I remember was a certain amount of chaos in my writing adventures.  The fall of 1998 when I sat at my round, broken table in my tiny studio apartment writing out poems by hand then typing them into a cumbersome word processor I used for most of my grad school essays.  Or the summer as an undergrad I spent banging out drafts on my electric typewriter in my parent's dining room, poems that were all over the place style and subject matter-wise.  I would just randomly pick a topic or a line out of a metaphorical hat and write a poem. So weird.

This seems really strange, since the idea of doing that, of having to do that, piques me with a terrible sense of anxiety now. When I moved back to the city after a year away, I started writing to publish, so most of my poems were drafted by hand and then saved in my work e-mail, then later, my personal e-mail. (and many on this blog.) At first, they were disparate, and I have no idea my process then for conceiving a's as strange to me as if the work was someone else's.  I wrote about childhood, and mothers, and loss. About loneliness and memory. There were some narrative threads, but nothing that intentional or able to hold anything together.  

When it came time to put that first book, what became the fever almanac, together, it seemed overwhelming, to wrangle all that matter into something that made sense. I eventually did it. But it took a while and numerous drafts, and a couple years of submitting and failing but it was eventually a book. By the time it was released in late 2006, I was already a project poet for reals, though I might not have admitted it in the moment. The second book was made up of projects--smaller bits made of even smaller bits. There were the Joseph Cornell poems, the victorian genre poems of errata. The bulk of feign centered around danger and femininity. The archer avenue series. While they were disparate shorter series, they formed a constellation, not only by time, but by subject matter, and eventually they built their own book, in the bird museum.

By then, I was already well into girl show, the longer book project that was my thesis. These were the first whole manuscript of poems intended to go together from inception, and it was much the same for the shared properties of water and stars, written rather swiftly in 2012, a book which felt more like a longish, fragmented chapbook than a full-on book. The books that followed seemed to be made up, like the second book, of smaller series--major characters in minor films, salvage, little apocalypse, sex & violence, feed, dark country. Even the latest one.  Most of them appeared as chaps or zines, or videopoem series prior. Smaller projects that make sense together.  There are two more, as yet unpublished, the forthcoming automagic and collapsologies, which I'll probably release sometime next year. There are a couple different clusters and bits that may form similar books in the future. These books, since I have already done the heavy lifting in terms of ordering on a smaller scale, the final, longer book is just a matter of putting the larger sequences in order in a way that makes sense, which is much less arduous than a full wriggling mass of a manuscript. You put the dolls inside the dolls and stand them up. Repeat. 

Then there is granata.

I've actually been reading tips and advice from novelists and fiction writers.  It feels strange to be writing a larger, whole, book-length project from the beginning, with a plotline and narrative structure (or hopefully will have these things god willing.)  But its nice, and now, in this quieter, less hectic space of my brain the past 6 months, I feel like it's actually possible. The sustained concentration and focus I need. I had it once, in grad school, but it was sort of forced. And even girl show was written over the span of about two years of fits and starts, bits and pieces. This will have taken most of the summer if all goes well, but it will be a sustained effort. I am about halfway there, with quite a few miles left to go...

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