To begin where I am

And today has been my second-most-productive day of the break, which is not saying a lot, you understand, because it has not been a wildly productive break, but it’s been very pleasant and there has definitely been progress on book #3.  I am really enjoying the process of writing this book, when I’m not confused and frustrated by it–which is to say, maybe 20% of the time, which isn’t bad.

I can’t remember if I have mentioned before that my first book was written as most first books of poems are–you write poems for years, thinking about each one as an individual artifact, and then at some point you spread them all over the floor and try to figure out if there is a book in there somewhere.  A few poems, the last ones, were written to fill in what seemed to be missing pieces, but most of them were ens causa sui, if I’m using that phrase correctly–written for no other cause but themselves.

My second book, which I have just sent out again–it is under submission with five different contests–was written quite differently.  I thought of it as a book from the beginning; although there were definitely poems that came forward to be written that needed to be worked in to the overall pattern (and a few that never seemed to fit), I was also aware that I was writing a book as I worked on it, and I enjoyed that.  I just made a few minor edits to that one in preparation for sending it off again, and I feel satisfied with it.  I wonder when it will finally find its publisher.  I do need to look ahead and figure out where it goes next–some more contests, yes, but possibly a few publishers that look at manuscripts outside of contests as well.  I’ve done that a few times and had some friendly responses.

Now this third one seems to have a center of gravity that neither of the other two had.  I’m not sure if that’s more reflective of the project itself, or of me, how I’ve changed as a writer.  Though so much about writing unsettles one’s confidence, there’s something confidence-building about having published one book and completed another (however long it takes that one to find its way to print).  On any given day, there’s as much uncertainty as ever, but underneath it, there’s a certainty that wasn’t there before, that what I’m writing is a book.

And yet–sometimes there’s also the effect of reducing the gravity of any individual poem.  I see it partly in terms of its function in the book, which was something I did less in book #2 and only at the end of writing book #1.  I don’t love that–because part of my process has always been to get closely, obsessively focused on the individual artifact.  I feel relieved when I look up to realize that I have managed to come into that state of intense obsession, and troubled when I have moved through several drafts of a particular poem without getting there.  Then I have trouble believing in the poem.

So you can see how I might spend 80% of the time in confusion and frustration.  But hey, I’m working.


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