When the Obsessions are Conceptual, the Writing is Surreal
The only “artistic” writing that I do is the occasional bit of poetry. Yeah, so does everyone. I like to think I’ve passed the usual “poetry club” level. Anyways.
Your art should be a part of you; you write, you paint, you photograph, draw, sculpt because you have no choice in the matter.
Language is great at describing things. Its great weakness is in conveying experience, and yet that’s exactly what we lean on it for the most, on an interpersonal level. Our mouths are our most sensitive organ. The best language can do is invoke the experience in another person.
So they say, show, don’t tell. “He was pissed off” doesn’t have the same impact as “He raged his way incoherent through fifteen painful minutes”. I’m just making this up. You can probably tell.
It’s process, of course. We live our language, but take it for granted. Stop taking your language for granted, please.
When an idea, a partial poem, runs through my head, more often than not I won’t write it down. Wait, aren’t we supposed to keep a notebook on hand at all times for ideas?
Naw. You can feel how fully formed an expression is. The general idea might be fine to record, but after a couple minutes you can tell when you’re forcing the words.
With haiku, I do usually write them down immediately; there may well be lots of rewriting, but they’re such delicate structures that every initial nuance, however forced, is a necessity for maintaining the idea later on.
With any longer form, I have to pare down.
Usually, whatever passes through is a spin on something I already think about- it’s pretty much given that it’ll come crawling back later, in better shape than it began. Better to let it roam for a while.
When I say fully formed, I mean that it is usually two or three lines, and perhaps bits of a couple stanzas, with gaps to be filled. The focus provided by the formed lines generally overcomes all of it, with only a few scratched-out words marking the way. I will have a first draft in ten to fifteen minutes. Even forty lines worth, if that’s the way it leans. If I push on, I may work for up to an hour, in a constant revision process. This may need minor tweaks later, but after such effort, it is almost flawless, within the scope of my ability.
Except for when I do a drastic rewrite a month later. That happens sometimes. Writers cannibalize their own thoughts.
I often write free verse that turns out to have almost perfect meter. Woops. All that reading and close reading in college helps out. It’s practice, physical practice, until it’s not just automatic, but rhythmic. Poets used to copy out previous poets’ work repeatedly, the way apprentice painters copied paintings. It drives the work home.
The rhythm then exists naturally, without effort, without force, pulsing through the flow generating each following step.
I may revise twenty times. Or not. “Fully formed” is a relative term. A nice couplet becomes an entire stanza, or is unrecognizable outside of two key words and a concept. Context, context, context.
The passing concept startles me. Catches my attention. That is fully formed. You see your everyday ideas in a new light. And you learn.
“Writers end up writing about their obsessions. Things that haunt them; things they can’t forget; stories they carry in their bodies waiting to be released.” pg. 42, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg
An Expression of Tea:
Camphor breath ripples
gold green rust.