Wednesday, 28 July 2010

It's in the Editing...

I think I have finally realised what it means to be more rigorous with my poetry editing. The trick is: to learn how to recognize the weaker lines (not always as easy as it sounds); to get feedback about what works and what doesn't (what seems blindingly obvious to the writer may leave the reader completely flummoxed! The trick with that one is to detach oneself from the subject matter - especially if it based on a real place/person/event) and then to carefully question each part of the poem and look at how/if it is working, look for clich├ęs (can you say it in a more unusual/interesting way?) check out whether or not your metaphors are working and whether they are conflicting with one another (for instance in a recent poem I had children swarming like ants but in the next line they were worming through a tube - these are conflicting metaphors that could confuse the reader).  

Another practice I have been finding really useful as part of my editing process is to look at each poem and try and write down what I think the imperative is. The imperative is not the subject matter - for instance the subject matter of the poem I mentioned earlier was a children's playground but the imperative of the poem is the loss of innocence - how things seems different as we grow up and how we try and hold onto that innocence.  It is not always easy to know what the imperative is, even of one's own poems and this is where work-shopping can be invaluable. Once your work has been critiqued it is good to try and explain what the work is really about (if it wasn't clear already). When I work-shoppped my poem about the playground for the first time it became clear to me by the end that the poem wasn't actually achieving the goal I had set it and I was able to rectify this with a few simple changes.  

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Where has the "I" gone?

I had a great work-shopping session with a friend on Tuesday morning and  she raised quite an interesting question about my recent poetry - which was where has the "I" gone? And looking back at the body of work that I have produced on the MA it does seem that the "I" has been somewhat absent from my work. I find this extremely interesting, especially so because the work that I produced on my creative writing degree at the art school had a very strong sense of self and was intensely personal and firmly rooted in time and place. So where has this self gone? Is it that I haven't felt comfortable enough to be as candid as that on the MA? Is it that I have worked through those issues and moved on in my writing? Or is it that I have been responding to the comments of one of my tutors that some of my poems were less accessible because they were so personal?

The poems that I wrote about cleaning out my mum's house are personal but in a different way than the poems that I used to write, and the same with my journey poems. The new poems are more about what is happening around the "I" than about the "I" itself. This is very interesting and I think that there is a definite danger that if I am not careful  the poems might become too detached and therefore less accessible to the reader.  The "I" could simply become a thing that the landscape and circumstances surround and act upon rather than taking a central role.

My question is does the loss of the"I" make the poems dislocated and ultimately less powerful, less believable or is the "I" implicit in the narrative voice?

My friend also raised the question about whether some of the poems were doing enough. For example I had written a poem about milking and she questioned whether or not I should give voice to the wider issues that the whole idea of milking evokes.  Heaney, for instance, almost always has a deeper issue in his poems about rural and domestic life. My worry though, is that I don't want to state these deeper issues to openly - aren't the issues of farming, motherhood etc implied in any poem about milking?  I found myself wondering later exactly what the imperative of the poem I had written was - was it the problematical relationship between mother and child/human and animal, was it the ethics of farming, or was it a little of all of these?  One of the things I wanted to do was to dispel a little of the myth of the beauty and glory of rural pastimes. There is a great romanticism (especially in literature) attached to the milking of cows but I found it to be somewhat unpleasant and I wanted to convey this in the poem.