Stuck in Revision

Well, here we are: we’re getting down to the last few days before our portfolio is due. Ever the procrastinator, I have (naturally) left my biggest problem pieces for the final two days; I keep hoping that maybe if I wait another day, my Poetry Brain will be more awake/better/have a sudden flash of genius that will allow me to get some significant work done on these pieces. Of course, that isn’t how it’s going. I’m so stuck. I’ve been sitting & staring at a blinking cursor for cumulative hours at this point. Revision is such a tricky little mistress; sometimes, it flows so easily that I almost wonder why I didn’t put this into a poem in the first place. But sometimes, I wonder how I even got to the draft that I have. I do have a few tricks for when I’m really, well-&-truly stuck. First, the obvious: I think I’ve memorized some of the comments on my poems from re-reading them so much. Sometimes, I do an exercise to push past the block:  I take the last line as it is & write something new out of that. I completely un-break the poem, edit to make it do what I want without the benefit of line breaks or white space, and then re-break it.  Or, I step entirely away from the piece: do other homework, make dinner, go for a walk, waste some time on the internet for a bit. So far, all my usual tricks are coming up dry. I’m sure I’m not the only one in this slump right now, so I figured we may as well try to get an “anti-writers-block list” going, because we’re all on a deadline now. What do you all do when you have a horrifically stubborn poem, or when your brain seems to actually shut itself off but you have so much left to do?

On Motivation

As the end of the semester draws near, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this class.  I remember when I signed up, I was so excited to have a reason to write poetry: finally, something to keep me accountable and twist my arm a little into making sure I kept up the practice.  In the past, I’ve found that my writing is one of the first things that gets swept under the rug once I no longer have something (like a class) to keep me on track. Simply put, I have motivation issues. I don’t exercise unless someone is counting on me to do it (hence my current involvement in the fitness challenge). I’m guilted into eating my vegetables because my housemates know I would otherwise forget to buy them. I want to keep writing poetry. I don’t want to lose this groove I’m in. At the same time, I’m well aware that the lazy side of me that says Netflix is easier than writing will probably win out. So I guess my question is this: how do you all stay motivated to keep writing when you are the only one to hold yourself accountable? Do you have any tricks for those periods in life where you know you should write because God, it’s been forever, but can’t seem to make it happen?

Exercise: fiddling with prose poems

As this semester has continued, I have found more and more that I’m very interested in examining how form (or a lack thereof, formally) can lend to the idea or message a poem is trying to convey.  I keep circling back to prose poems, primarily because they both befuddle and intimidate me.  I want to work through my stuck-ness on them, and on form in general.  I’ve yet to attempt this prompt myself, but break isn’t quite over yet, so we’ll see where I land when I do.

Prompt: Take a lineated poem you’ve written and re-write it as a prose poem.  Don’t just remove breaks; find a way to make the poem function in its new form.  Try to retain the original tone that the lineated piece had (unless, of course, the piece is pulling in a different direction.  You can follow that, too. Or do both. See what happens). Put the lineated & prose piece side-by-side. What differences do you find between the two? How did the poem change when you couldn’t use line breaks or form to help tell the poem?

Prose Poems vs. Lyric Essays

In my reading of Aaron Shurin’s poetry for this week, I found myself very caught up in the fact that most of his poems seem to be prose poems. While I don’t want to detract from Sara’s presentation, I am very interested in some of the issues that his poetry brings up–particularly the idea of what prose poetry is.  We’ve talked a little about it in class, but I don’t recall us ever coming to a succinct definition as to what prose poetry is.  Building on that, where is the line between prose poetry and lyric essays? What is the difference between the two?  In my mind, a prose poem is typically rather short, while a lyric essay is longer.  However, a lyric essay seems to embody a bit more of a sense of the narrative than a prose poem does, as prose poems are a space to explore images & more abstract ideas. So what happens if (as in the Shurin) a poem is both long and abstract?  Is there a defining line between prose poetry and lyric essays? I’m not sure there is, but you all might have different/more concrete definitions. How do you all differentiate?

I’ve got a blank space, baby: White space?

Our in-class discussion today on white space was super helpful to me in terms of interpreting white space, but I feel like I still have a long way to go in the way of actually utilizing it myself in a way that feels genuine.  I’m very interested in it, and I love the way it can function in a piece.  A few months ago, I stumbled on this poem by Eugenia Leigh, and it stuck with me:


How carelessly God hummed us whole
with such pronounced
holes                for lungs.

How hollow                 we are. How

anonymous—six billion
in a faraway warehouse.

I guess at this point I’m very interested in how white space can be used to denote physical space or a physical feeling, like it does in this one.  I absolutely love how the space functions in this poem in such a way that I have a physical reaction: I feel myself breathing, but I am also aware of the effort it takes for me to draw breath, somehow. I feel the holes in my chest.  One of my favorite things about poetry is its ability to elicit that physicality in the reader, and that’s something I really want to look into playing with.

That being said, white space is such a wonderfully flexible element, and I’m interested in how other people like to see it used/how others use it.  I know we did a brainstorm in class, but I’m wondering how everybody else views white space and how you go about incorporating it? I know what I like when I see it, but I feel like I struggle in incorporating it successfully myself.