Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Hanging with Peggy

Peggy Shumaker came to town this week and I was lucky enough to have dinner with her, see her read, and then have her come to class.  She is the most generous poet I've ever met--it's amazing how giving she is to everyone around her.

I especially enjoyed her talk with my class.  My class (which is excellent) asked really probing, deep questions and she answered them all beautifully.  She really gave me some food for thought.  One thing she said is that she never cuts from a poem in early drafts--she just adds.  She argued that if we cut too soon, we may lose possibilities, and that we need to let those sit for a while.  Let the poems get longer and longer and then pare back later.  It's an interesting idea.  I often cut pretty early--things I think sound awkward, or don't fit, or I just don't like.  I'm not sure I could write using this technique, but it did make me think about that magical early draft tunnel--how we get in it, how we stay in it.  This is the part of writing that's hard to articulate, and hard to teach.  I think each of us enters the tunnel in different ways and part of our growth as writers is to find the way we enter and then keep doing so.

This beginning of term has felt a little magical that way.  I normally have 2-3 weeks at the beginning of semesters before I get totally overwhelmed with papers and I write a lot of poems.  This term I've been able to go on longer than I usually do, thanks to having two workshops and only one comp class (my first time ever) and I'm finding I'm holding my breath--hoping to keep writing, hoping to keep in that magic zone.  I've been writing about one poem a day, and am more or less happy with what's happening.  I haven't read any of them again, as I need some space, need to let them sit for a while.  Peggy talked about that too--the long period in which we live with the poem. She said sometimes hers are years--she had one poem that she worked on for ten years (that shocked my students!).  I don't have any that long, but some are two or three years.  A student told me this week that he's never written more than two drafts of a poem or story.  That surprised me--I think I'd been assuming they were working on their drafts more than this.  It'll be interesting to do a post-Peggy discussion with them.

In the meantime, I'm going to bed so I can wake up at 4:00 and see if I can enter that tunnel one more time.

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