I’ve been at work on my cancer poetry book. It is hard to measure progress, but I am up to 34 pages of stuff. There are 18 poems and five or six pages of other ‘stuff.’ I am still not sure how it will end, but the structure is in place. I’ve got an outline of sorts – well just a list of poem titles. And like all things I do, I couldn’t sick to just one form. In among the poems are bits of prose, notes and some that is hard to describe.
This isn’t the kind of project I can think through – it has to be felt. That becomes most clear to me when I write a poem and re-feel the emotions of the event. After all I am working under the notion that my poetry is intended to make you feel an emotion in response to the poem. Sometimes I am trying to invoke a particular emotion – sadness, grief or hope. It is presumptuous for me to assume that you’ll feel exactly the same emotion I had or that I intended, but still I want my readers to respond with more feelings and less with intellect.
The intellectual version of the cancer events I am exploring is simple and would only take a few pages. Such an exercise might be interesting to some, but it fails to illuminate the human impact of the events. We humans are complex creatures with both logic and emotions pulling at our lives. For me, logic can be a hollow and empty experience, while grand visits require feeling to understand the awesome view. Strip feeling from the world and the view from the rim of the Grand Canyon becomes a simple exercise in geology. Hardly inspiring.
Inspiration or lack of inspiration is the place I’ve come to at the moment. In most projects, I start off with great enthusiasm and after a while come to a place where my inner demons start throwing doubt at my soul saying things like:
“It isn’t very good poetry.”
“What do you know of poetics?”
“You’re the only one who will like this.” “They say they like just because they are being kind.”
Sometimes the voices of doubt can crowd out the part of me that needs to tell this story this way. It isn’t always easy to silence the critic. Still, all self-criticism isn’t bad. I’ve spent a lot of time editing what I have written – refining, polishing and asking the question, “Does this poem, stanza, line, or word, work to build the feeling or paint the scene I am trying to create?”
Answer the question ‘no’ and I make a revision. Answer the question ‘yes’ and I move on. Sounds simple, but it isn’t because between the question and answer a door is opened to the inner doubter and self-doubt that can destroy inspiration.
It’s a struggle at times. I don’t want to give the impression that the work has stopped or that I fight for every word. It’s been rewarding so far and there are a few poems and prose sections that I am very happy with.
The project is now in that place I some times get to with a wood working project. The shop is filled with half made parts. Parts in clamps waiting for the glue to dry. The shop is in disarray. Drawings are filled with corrections and the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’ve cut a critical part half an inch short.
So here is the update on my book. It’s in pieces in my mind and all over my computer screen. I’ve got six or so windows open with notes, half-finished poems, and the final manuscript where I cut and paste in completed poems. It continues to grow and take on it’s own life.
It hasn’t told me yet when it will be ready to leave home.
Till next week,