Same as last year, I'm putting up the short essay of what I came away with from this residency straight out of the residency reviews. I can hardly wait for January, to see everyone and to keep hearing from all of these amazing writers who keep changing my writing more than I ever imagined anyone could.
Without further ado, the essay: (Any grammar police, please forgive me...)
Residency Review: The Joy of Remaking
My last two semesters, I struggled a great deal with revision. I’ve been hearing writer after writer talking about how a poet can’t just copyedit a piece and call it good. We have to enter into a process of re-envisioning, working the poem over and over, expanding it more and more until it refuses to encompass any more. Then we can condense it and condense it until we squeeze out all the extra bits in, and only the essential pieces remain. It’s been a frustration for me, because even though I have had a few very successful revisions, most of them consist of moving a few lines around or taking out a word or an image to tighten a line and letting it be. Even though I feel I know infinitely more about revision than I ever did before I started this program, I still feel as if, when I approach my own work, there’s nothing more for me to open up.
This residency, it seems like the theme of revision kept coming up again and again. Claire Davis admitted her frustrations, and her dedication, by telling us she revised three hundred plus pages at least three times. And then she showed us where she finds small spaces to open up—spaces of abstraction which may or may not be good enough or right for the piece can be cracked open and spill over into pages and pages of new opportunity. Or, a character may become narrow and need to be squeezed out. Charles Johnson admitted to throwing out thousands of pages and trying on persona after persona until, finally, the voice and motivation came out right.
Then Aimee Nezukumatathil came out and dropped the haibun form right in front of me. That little prose poem, which usually makes me so nervous, with its accompanying haiku seemed, suddenly, to be the answer to a poem I’ve been struggling with for a year and a half. Ellen Bass warned us to watch out for moments in a poem when emotion is too easy, and to re-orient the speaker’s vision toward the things that triggered the speaker’s emotion, instead of writing down the feelings themselves. Joe Millar, with Dorianne and Ellen’s help, gave me new perspective on line breaks—showing me how to rethink and re-shape a poem with a simple syllabic exercise. Peter Sears, with the help of Richard Hugo, showed me that I can use perfect meter in a piece without it becoming obvious or monotonous by working it into the sentence structure instead of into the line.
Armed with these and other tools, such as Mary Helen Stefaniak’s declaration that eavesdropping is a perfectly acceptable form of research (which I’ve always employed, but will do so now without guilt) and Mike Myer’s admonition to always start in place in order to get the reader’s feet on the ground, I feel like I’m a little better prepared to re-envision my pieces. To give them a little more life, and, when they’re bursting with it, start to whittle them back down. Do I believe I’ve solved all my revision problems? Does a writer ever? But I do feel as if this residency and these writers have given me more confidence, a better understanding of the problems that will come up in my writing, and a few more things to toss into my toolbox to help along the way.
Thanks to all who follow these posts. I hope they're interesting for you.