Writing Process Blog Tour

Thanks to Cassie Pruyn for asking me along on the Writing Process Blog Tour! And to Megan Galbraith who asked Cassie — two talented writers I admire very much, and whose work you should check out. (I wish we were on more than an e-tour, though. It would be fun to be traveling in a VW bus talking poems and eating in diners).

1) What are you working on?

I’m working on my first manuscript. It’s a collection of poems I’ve been working on for a few years now. These poems center on attention, on witness — on seeing. Some are dinosaurs I’ve polished/reinvented. Most are newer poems written while at Bennington — some are very new poems written since graduating last June. I’m working a good bit on two series of poems. The first invokes Charlotte Mew, a turn-of-the-century British poet who is largely unknown and mindblowingly good. The second is a series titled “Letters to Pittsburgh.” I am deep into revision mode right now, and also trying to see it as a whole — to figure out how they speak to each other, so I can make them into an organic book, not just a jumble of poems.

2) How does the work differ from others of its genre?

Major Jackson once asked us in a workshop to think about how we would define our poetic lineage. Think about it: how would you draw your poetic family tree? I’m continually aware of the poets to whom I’m indebted, those who’ve inspired me and paved the way. But I also hope I’m adding a unique voice to the landscape. I think maybe the biggest difference between my poems and some of what is out there is that they often risk sentimentality. I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of trying to be too clever in a poem, or prizing linguistic play above an emotional core. But then, of course, that means I need to also work against that tendency so I can continue to grow…

3) Why do you write what you do?

When I was very young, I planned to write novels because that’s what I grew up reading. But then I read a poem, and another, and another — in an anthology in the library at my elementary school. I think they were Dickinson and Frost — and that was that. I felt immediately that this was the language of my inner world, and I just hadn’t realized that anyone else spoke it. This was the form where I could say the things I needed to say. This could be a much longer answer (and now I really do wish we were in a diner with some good diner coffee), so I’ll just say this: a poem enacts the experience for the reader. It is more of the thing itself than a description of the thing (prose, to me), and I’ve always liked that. It is also smaller. I like that I can have a poem in my pocket and nobody knows.

4) How does your writing process work?

My writing process is an intuitive thing — disordered, full of stops and starts. In the last few years, I’ve finally let go of the idea that I have to carve out the perfect space and time to write and think. I do “write” in some form every day. By this I mean I do things connected to writing in some way: writing down what I see or think on my walks (my son only sleeps while moving right now, so I type on my phone while pushing the stroller, which yes, has led to some embarrassing moments running into trees or people), reading, journaling, writing long emails, revising a poem. I’ve learned that sometimes if I let a poem percolate, I’ll wake up with the phrase I need, or think of it while showering. Not usually, but sometimes. Mostly, I sweat and fret and then eventually, sometimes, get it to where it feels right.

I read that Marianne Moore used to walk around her apartment with whatever poem she was currently working on stuck to a clipboard. While she was vacuuming or doing other practical stuff she had to do, she would still be looking at the poem, she would have it nearby. I love this image and although I don’t use the clipboard method, I try to always have the next poem in my head, so I can turn it over and over until I can bring it closer to what it’s supposed to be.

Thanks for reading! And look out for more posts as the Writing Process Blog Tour continues….