Down with mutual backscratching

Following receipt of an anonymous comment g r a p e z meditates on his practice of critiquing published net poetry on his blog. I hope he never stops. That goes for Julie at Weirdness Evaluation Engine too. The you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours ethos in the poetry blogsphere really bothers me, I have to say. How are we ever to learn anything, ever, that way?

More on revision

Galway Kinnell on revision in the New Yorker (hat tip Poetry and Poets in Rags):

I read a poem thinking it’s done, and put it down, and then I pick it up a few days later, thinking I might send it to you, and I see something that seems a little wrong. So I work on that. Then I think it’s done, but, the truth is, there are a dozen places where it might be wrong.

I’m a little bit ashamed about my revisions. I’m ashamed that I didn’t see what had to be done soon enough. Or, to put it another way, I published my poems before they were completely done. Once a thing is in print, all its faults seem to leer out at you. And then I have no alternative but to try to fix them.

“Once a thing is in print, all its faults seem to leer out at you.” Heh. On a different scale (altogether, I know), that’s one of the useful things with a blog, I’m finding. Once you post a piece to your blog, it’s as if you snap on a different perspective (like when you go the optometrist and he clicks different lenses in front of you and says: Is that clearer? Or not? I usually give the wrong answer, but I at least I can tell it’s different). Probably not as good a perspective as you would get seeing it in actual print, but a minor start, a useful revision tool.

Revision as perilous activity

The Chain Reading poetry project is clipping along nicely, thank-you. Am discovering that much of the stuff I have been berating myself for not having read has in fact been read somewhat. Fragmentedly, in a passing-by sort of fashion. Not quite enough for me to say: aha, this is my impression of this book on this day, which is what we are going for now. One of the more recent reviews I’ve added is of The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. Beyond what I left on the Chain Reading site, this stuck with me. On revising poetry:

Revision is the poet’s most difficult, demanding and dangerous work. Difficult because it’s hard to let go of our original inspirations or ideas or our best lines, as we may have to do in the service of the poem. Demanding because it calls for us to reach deeper or further than we may want to, or feel we know how to. Dangerous because we feel we might, in the act of trying to make a good poem better, lost touch with the raw energy that drove the poem into its fullness to begin with.

True revision is just that: a re-visioning of the poem’s potential and the strategies it has used so far. In an early draft, the language on the page should be considered temporary language, ripe with possibilities, with the gifts your subconscious mind has offered up.

Almost a counter-intuitive conclusion to come to, that revision is more than just tidying up and putting a bow on inspiration. It’s a weight-pulling workmate to inspiration. At least.

Books rights

Who remembers Alleluia Cone? From Satanic Verses? Here’s a bit about her:

“‘At that time I was keen to use advanced puppetry techniques in a picture, maybe to depict demons or other supernormal beings. So I got a book.’ I got a book: Gibreel the autodidact made it sound like an injection. To a girl from a house that revered books – her father had made them all kiss any volume that fell by chance to the floor – and who had reacted by treating them badly, ripping out pages she wanted or didn’t like, scribbling and scratching at them to show them who was boss, Gibreel’s form of irreverence, non-abusive, taking books for what they offered without feeling the need to genuflect or destroy, was something new.”

I had a crazy dad like that (hear that, you crazy dad?) and although we never had to kiss books that fell on the floor, it was only just not, let me tell you. Folding over a corner to mark your page was death-by-firing-squad-worthy; as was folding a paperback book outward against its spine so you could hold the whole folded inside-out thing in one hand while reading from it; as was placing an open book face downward on the table to keep it open at the place you wanted (and I have to admit I still can’t see any of these things done without cringing, and really painfully, and I admit I terrorize my two sons along the same lines). As for writing in books, that was a sparking sulphurous crime spoken of in hushed voices, if spoken of at all, and one that no punishment imaginable by us could ever really properly fit.

So why am I now not only suddenly writing in books, but thoroughly enjoying it? Today, as I have done several times in recent days, I sat down with a book and got up again because I didn’t have a pencil in my hand with which to write in the book! (Yes, I know – the next step on the road to perdition will be writing in pen, as opposed to pencil.) And this has only just happened. What happened? Possibly I am just boringly and belatedly turning into a rebellious Alleluia Cone-like teen in my middle-age (better late than never, after all). Not sure it’s that mundane though. Stay tuned. While I sharpen my pencil. Heh. 


Chain reading (and Levertov)

I have a terrible habit of seeing one or two pieces or a fragment from a particular author I like and jumping on Amazon to order the author wholesale. Usually by the time they get to me I’ve moved on and, not lost interest exactly, but can’t remember exactly why I was interested. And so I end up with a huge number of all kinds of books that I haven’t read, but really truly honestly will read, very soon. I estimate that between 25% and 30% of the books in my library are currently UNREAD. (But why would that stop me from ordering more?)

Unread Masses of Books are a fact of my life and are also a source of constant low-grade minorly festering guilt. So I admit I was both intrigued and excited to read of yet another good idea from Julie that may help manage this chronic problem. I decided to limit the exercise (which may, after all, not work, given me) to poetry-related stuff for the moment, and had a good time sorting out what I actually own in the way of unread poetry/poet/poetics books and making a plan to actually read some of them. Not counting a diverse range of poetry collections that are more refrence works (I hope I am not supposed to sit down of a Saturday morning to read the Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry or the Oxford Book of English Verse — or am I?) this is the plan so far, based on what we have to hand.

And so far, so great, in that I was actually spurred by putting it on my current reading list (it wasn’t there before, ahem) to finally finish my way through Selected Poems of Denise Levertov today. And very glad I did, I am — not least because I got to move it off the Currently Reading to the Here’s A Review list, heh.

So there we are. As a random wind-up, here are some enjoyable perspectives on the schizophrenia of being a woman from Levertov – three separate pieces that tie into each other and that I had never connected before. (Love the opals and feathers – they come up in other pieces, too.)

The Earthwoman and the Waterwoman

by Denise Levertov

The earthwoman by her oven

tends her cakes of good grain.

The waterwoman’s children

are spindle thin.

The earthwoman

had oaktree arms. Her children

full of blood and milk

stamp through the woods shouting.

The waterwoman

sings gay songs in a sad voice

with her moonshine children.

When the earthwoman

has had her fill of the good day

she curls to sleep in her warm hut

a dark fruitcake sleep

but the waterwoman

goes dancing in the misty lit-up town

in dragonfly dresses and blue shoes.


In Mind

by Denise Levertov

There’s in my mind a woman

of innocence, unadorned but

fair-featured and smelling of

apples or grass. She wears

a utopian smock or shift, her hair

is light brown and smooth, and she

is kind and very clean without


but she has

no imagination

And there’s a

turbulent moon-ridden girl

or old woman, or both,

dressed in opals and rags, feathers

and torn taffeta,

who knows strange songs

but she is not kind.

Then there’s a third piece called The Woman which I can’t find on the internet, but it’s a addressed to a man and combines these two portraits. It ends like this:

“they are not two, but one,

pierce the flesh of one, the other

halfway across the world, will shriek,

her blood will run. Can you endure

life with two brides, bridegroom?”