Residency Summary: Awake in the Depths
I am still amazed by how things come together at the residencies. This time, it feel into line with what my semester had begun to teach me—the idea of depth. This past semester, I started to understand how to let my poems and my imagination take me into things I didn’t think I knew. The farther I went, the more things made sense. This residency, several of the faculty members turned to depth in their craft talks in different ways. The most important, to me, was Claire Davis’ suggestion to turn to depth instead of trying to always move forward with story. Sometimes, when writing something and it isn’t going anywhere, I need to write vertically. Starting out small and distant, I need to zoom in and take in anything and everything that might be around me. For a poem, it might be geography, proper names of things, a deeper realization of the character I am presenting, thoughts, actions, spaces. I need to plumb the strata of the moment in order to discover more and present more in a poem, or a moment in a novel. Sometimes writing simply needs the writer to stop and open her eyes.
A similar topic came up in Ben Percy’s craft talk. He said to “notice what you notice” about things around us. When something is interesting, we tend to look at it longer. But what do we notice about it? Something common or uncommon, something we could show the reader that he may not have noticed before? His talk melded well with Debra Gwartney’s talk on specificity. When writing, it is not necessary to be specific about everything. The reader will think, at first, that something is important, and then realize that nothing is. The most important thing is to be aware of the character’s perception. When there is a moment when specifics are called for, then I need to be behind the character’s eyes, aware of his or her emotional state and surroundings. Human beings almost never notice things logically, and I have an opportunity to show the quirky or strange things I or my character would see when deep in thought, or thoroughly enmeshed in a moment.
How is this depth achieved? Marvin Bell and Cristina Garcia suggested a chaotic creative life is best for a writer. Shaking up my routine, reminding myself that I am not, and should not be predictable, and “becoming peripatetic” as Jack Driscoll said are all ways to get beyond the conscious mind and sink deeply into the subconscious. When I sit down to write, I must start too early and write too long in order to allow the wonder and strangeness of my mind out onto the page. It is only then that the poem can truly get past the conscious mind and make connections of its own—connections I could never have predicted or attempted to make on my own.
The most effective way to call things from our mind, whether strange or obvious, is to think. Kwame admonished us as poets to spend time in thought. And not to think only about politics or the social structure of our world, though those things are important, but to think deeply about other common things: love, family, an encounter with a stranger. Poets are looked up to in many parts of the world as thinkers. We have opinions and ideas, but too many writers stay to the simpler, shallower end of the writing pool, afraid of what people may think of what they have to say. As writers, we can’t do this. We have a responsibility to come to the page, to ponder what we are putting on the page, and to offer these writings to those who are reading them without apology. “I have to think of what is urgent,” Kwame said. We don’t write to make people like us, we write to make people think; to deepen their awareness of the world and what surrounds them.
I have often been encouraged to dive deep into writing, and I thought I had been—spending as much time as I thought I could and writing anything and everything that came to my mind. I realize now I have to actively awaken my mind by reaching deeply into it. I have to be a writer every day by taking the time to think more deeply about the events going on around me, my emotions, my actions. I realize that I am responsible for what I write. I am an influence on those who will read my writing, and I want to wake those people up to the world whether I am showing them what the world is made of, or what it is becoming.