My poetry has changed a lot since I started here. This is good. In fact, I would say if my work hadn’t drastically changed in the last six months, I wouldn’t feel like I was getting my money’s worth. This is supposed to be a time of rapid change in a person’s artistic life.
This rapid change, I think, is one of the reasons Lisa Fishman–my first poetry professor–was adamant that students not have poetic projects in their first year. Other professors, such as Tony Trigilio, are more receptive to projects, but I think Lisa’s point is well-taken: you really don’t want to limit your growth at this phase in your writing career, and the biggest way to inhibit growth is to fall into a rut. When you’re constantly focused on keeping things in one form or one way, as is often the case with projects, you can often end up in that rut.
Anyway, there’s one month left in the semester, and I’ve started my first project, which I’m totally jazzed about it.
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I am working on a project where I am taking the words from a page or two pages of Thomas Pynchon’s first novel, V, and turning those words into a poem. Currently, the form is couplets at the suggestion of the readers I have had so far, but the final form is up in the air. In fact, whether I strictly stick to just the words on the page is totally up in the air. I am trying to stay loose with this because that is my nature with my poetry generally. However, so far I have been tight to the outline I laid out above. I have roughly ten drafts of poems at various stages in the project and hope to end up with a chapbook to send out this summer/fall.
I am interested in this work, because it is to me an exploration of what constitutes “the feeling” of a piece of text. I believe poetry is experienced at least four ways, with different areas being highlighted depending on the work: metrically, phrasally (as in phrase length, weight, etc), linearly (as in the cognitive stack required to understand the sentence.. this might be highlighted in the long phrases and sentences of something like Paradise Lost) and thematically in the vocabulary itself. If I throw a paragraph together with the words “fairy,” “cave” and “stone,” it’s going to feel different than a similar paragraph with “alien,” “spaceship,” and “metal.” The way that vocabulary makes different texts “feel” different is interesting to me, especially in the context of how much is transferred over in a project such as the one I’m doing.
Sounds fun, right? This kind of explanation, thinking, process, etc is basically being a graduate student in poetry. There’s a snippet. Join us– we have fun!
Don’t worry if this is kind of confusing, though. All you have to do when accosted with this kind of diatribe in an otherwise pleasant conversation– assuming you aren’t actually interested– is say “wow that’s cool” and then repeat some of what was just said with a rising tone at the end to indicate a question. Eventually even a chatterbox like myself will talk themselves out.
You can also just change the subject.
Join us– we have fun!