Sunday, August 03, 2008


Perhaps because finishing up (inasmuch as something I expect to continue tweaking for another year or two is "finished") my book manuscript has freed me from my usual constraints and expectations, I find myself working on something entirely new for me: a series of poems about a fictional persona, whose life story (from about age 14 to about age 50) I've been exploring. Some of the poems are in third person, many are in second person, and a few are in first person; some of the first-person poems are in the voice of the main character and some are in the voice of someone else, either addressing or thinking about the main character. There is an ongoing story or narrative involved, though the poems function as a series of scattered vignettes rather than anything quite as organized as a novel-in-verse; I'm interested in opening up windows on various moments of my character's life, peering in, and then moving on to the next. So far I have about a dozen poems in various stages of draft, and there will be more (though who knows how many of them will end up feeling strong enough to send them out into the world). I have no idea whether they're going to end up being arranged chronologically, though I suspect they may, more or less.

This is way more narrative than I'm used to juggling! It is an interesting challenge for me. Even though many of the individual poems function on the lyric as much as (or even more than) the narrative level, the overall trajectory relies heavily on things like character, setting, exposition, and the passage of time. As I draft the poems, some of them are coming out really prosey -- or what feels to me like "prosey" anyway. Which means they feel flat in places, overly expository. Anyone have tricks for revising drafts that start out like this? I want them to be poems, not jumpy little stories with line breaks!

These are fun to write, though. I feel like I get to play dress-up a bit. And my character has some damned cool boots. :)


Anonymous said...

Many early drafts of my poems suffer from "prosiness", and it used to bother me a lot, but now I consider all those extra words as placeholders, jotted down so I wouldn't lose the thread of my thoughts in the effort to find the exact expression of those thoughts.

But that means revision can be arduous -- I tend to then do much cutting, replacing the fat with leaner images etc.

I just finished revising a poem about my father that I first drafted 6 or so years ago. But it was a one page chunk of prose I felt encumbered by, that I whittled at occasionally. I couldn't give it up, but I didn't know how to fix it.

But this summer I came upon it again, and finally "saw" the poem within the mass of words. It's actually longer now, but much sparer, not this big granite block.

Your new project sounds like great fun! Good luck with it.

Collin said...

Sounds like a promising series of poems. I am horribly jealous because I've been blocked for months, until this weekend when I finally wrote two poems, one of which is a keeper.

Jessie Carty said...

I find that if I collapse the poem into a single "paragraph" and then read it outloud I start to sense the words that are just place fillers. I tend to start very prosey.

Sounds like a really kewl series to work on!

Anne said...

Thanks, all! Hm. I'm not sure that what I'm perceiving as "prosiness" is actually as simple as just "extra words" ... it seems more innately structural. Not sure I'm putting my finger on it correctly. I'll have to continue poking at the things.

Collin, 2 poems in a weekend sounds super productive to me! Hooray for that :)

Lyle Daggett said...

Cool, sounds like a really exciting project. It sure is nice when the poems just roll out without having to be prompted too much.

Actually sounds like the kind of thing that could be turned into a movie contract. I wonder if anyone has done that before, make a movie based on a modern book of poems. It's long seemed to me that many poems (or books of poems, poem series, etc.) would transform nicely into movies.

Anne said...

Lyle: Hee! Fun idea. Sometimes I think I need to watch more movies so I have more techniques to steal for poems.