Sunday, June 17, 2012

Promises Promises

Soooo, it is 12:34 a.m. Oregon time, which means it is 1:34 Montana time, and my little noggin is currently fried because I was trying to put the finishing touches on the workshop pieces we're going to be critiquing (and before my mother reads this and thinks I didn't do my homework, I DID do my homework, I'm just a little picky about it, so I had to type my comments and go back and re-add all the lines and margin comments to the typed stuff. Anyway...)

So Wow. Here we are again, back in Forest Grove, and me and my two good friends I am rooming with cannot believe we're already beginning our third semesters here. We figured time would go by too fast but this is just doggone ridiculous. Still, rapidly as it's passing, it is just amazing.
Yesterday was the program opener, and even though most of the logistics are the same, we still all showed up to greet the faculty, cheer the staff, and get the general overview and announcements. Some people were talking about skipping, but due to the crazy semester and short break, shortened further by my recent move, I wanted to go to get me all jazzed up for residency. As usual, I was glad I did :)

Marvin Bell was the first presenter. His talks are so rich and so passionate that it's impossible to listen and take notes at the same time. Not that I didn't, I have two full notebook pages of notes, but they're the kind of thing you don't want to take notes on. You just want to sit there and listen and hope that your brain will retain it all on its own, because the note taking winds up just being a distraction. His talk was about surprising ourselves with our writing, and also managing to write feeling into our poetry without being sentimental. He reiterated that prose is prose for what it includes, poetry is poetry for what it leaves out. He also alluded to Ali Bhaba (forgive me if I misspelled it) and the magic words in that story. Obviously, that character had to learn the magic words, and then put them into practice. In the same way, we as writers must learn our tools from the things we read and putting them onto the page, learning how to lay them out right to make the magic.

There was SO much more to that talk, and I have to type up the notes in order to get more about it here into the blog.

After Marvin, Debra Gwartney got up and talked to us about our essays coming up this semester. She really managed to put a lot of peoples' minds at ease, since most of us are still a little fuzzy about what subject we'd like to choose, what style of essay we're allowed to write, how long it should be, how many sources, etc. Me, I'm still nervous because even though she did a great job and laid out all these different choices and suggestions, I still have about 4 different things I'm interested in, no clue how to narrow them down, or if I'm just crazy and the things I'm thinking are in the poems I want to write about aren't really there at all. At least I know which poets I'm interested in talking about, right?

Claire Davis was interviewed by Amy Merrick about revision after lunch. And myyyyy goodness. I don't read most modern fiction, or if I do it's stuff like Stephen James, Kristen Heitzmann's 'Indivisible', and Karen Hancock's 'The Enclave' (weird, but really good, IMHO). The interview, and Claire's willingness to do whatever it takes for the story really floored me, and it's making me want to read her books. I need to make a list of all the faculty books and all the fiction my friend Chris keeps encouraging me to read, and then lock myself in my apartment for a month when I graduate and just feed myself a steady fiction stream.
Claire and Amy were, as I said, talking about revision. Claire noted that she wrote her newest novel, 'Swimming with Horses' up to 320-odd pages before she realized she had two characters with necessary elements who could be combined into one. So she started the entire thing over again. Got in about 360 pages, and realized one of the guys in the story didn't even further the story at all. So out he came and the entire work got revised AGAIN! Can you imagine what kind of devotion that would take? She revised it yet again after that because another character had issues that needed to be addressed. I can barely revise half a dang page of poetry most of the time.
Claire brought up a section she had been revising in the novel and showed us three different versions. In each one, she had taken a sentence which seemed more like a placeholder in the work, and cracked it open to see what it would reveal. She got about 4 or so pages out of the sentence. So, she cracked another one open and got a few more pages. It was a line like "Such extravagant beauty". She said to be aware of lines like this in our own work--lines that might be hiding the potential for something so much more wonderful. It is our responsibility as writers to pay attention to moments in the story like that. We can't just keep a cheesy line and hope the reader won't notice. It doesn't matter if the reader doesn't notice. If we don't explore moments like that, we haven't done our job.
She was asked when she knew the work needed to be revised, and she replied that it is when the characters stop engaging her. If they are no longer exciting or interesting or compelling to discover, there's something wrong in the piece. Courage comes in then--the courage to address the problem, and take the necessary steps to correct it, even if it means re-envisioning the entire piece.
     As a comment on re-envisioning, she recommended Raymond Carver's 'The Bath' be compared to 'A Small, Good Thing'.
Again, there was more, but I didn't get to type the notes up yet.

Kellie Wells spoke after that about Idiosyncratic Omniscience in modern fiction: the idea that authors adopt an omniscient persona through which to tell a story, which removes them from the difficulty of being all-knowing (which, let's face it, we just can't do) and allows for a richer narrative voice that is not afraid to express its own opinion about the subject, to be sassy or cocky, etc., without making the narrator seem like an arrogant twerp. (Can you tell I'm about to fall asleep sitting up right now?)

I'll try and catch this up on today's happenings tomorrow. For now I gotta hit the hay. *Wave* to my cyber stalker ;) I miss ya around here. To the rest, I'll see you soon, and I miss you guys too!


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