Friday, October 28, 2011

Michael Hettich's Writing Experiment

A week ago, I saw the poet Michael Hettich at Books and Books.  He looked a bit nervous as he started the reading, but he needn't have been.  What wonderful poems in his latest book, The Animals Beyond Us!

But as he talked about his process, the source of his nervousness became clear.  His writing approach with this latest book was very different.  It makes me wonder about adopting a different approach once in awhile, just to see what might happen.

He wrote in a burst during a 2 month time.  He wrote 150 poems.  In the past, he's done more writing in form, but during this 2 month burst, the form was the process.  He knew he wanted to write 150 poems, not 136, not 194, but 150. 

Here's the process:  He wrote quickly, with no revising, no looking back, no judging.  He wrote 2 or 3 poems a day.  He tried to juxtapose items in a radical way, putting those items together in a way that would surprise the reader.

In these poems, there aren't as many that are based on true stories.  He said that these aren't poems about the big things (existential issues, like why are we here and why can life be so painful?).  He said these are just walking around poems.  They do seem to be based in observations of daily life.

When he was done with the 150 poems, he read them all and chose the 50 poems that appear in this book.  He says he didn't do much revising.  He didn't do what he called overediting.

He said that when you've been writing and revising for a long time, you tend to bring your poems to a habitual place because that's what you know how to do.  You end them the same way.  You use similar approaches.

Michael Hettich said that he needed to bring his poems to a different place, and that his new process helped him do that. 

During his Friday reading, he read the poems in the same order as they appear in the book.  He didn't do much in the way of introduction, which one of the audience members said she really liked, because she got to form her own opinion.

At the end of the reading, the Books and Books employee noted that he could bring in a specialist on the Middle East and get maybe 10 people to come.  But Michael Hettich read to a packed room--and he made it worth our efforts.

If he's ever in your neighborhood, I highly recommend him.  But even if he's not, you can still read his books.

Here's my last Michael Hettich anecdote.  Years ago, I applied for an individual artist's grant from the state of Florida.  I didn't get it.  But I did get a mailing that included samples of the award winning work.  When I read Michael Hettich's poem, I thought, "Cool.  He deserves this grant."  I understand that there's a limited pool of money.  It makes it easier to accept that I didn't get any of the money when the prize-winning work makes me shake my head in wonder at the skill of the poet.

If you go here and scroll down, you can read that poem, "The Point of Touching."  And there are other poems for you to enjoy too--a great way to celebrate Friday! 


Kathleen said...

Michael Hettich is a favorite of mine! I'm glad to hear about this project, and glad you got to attend the reading!

I had spurt of writing this fall, unusual in intensity and in the poems it produced. Maybe there's something in the air.

Kristin said...

I've often wondered if anyone outside of the S. Florida area has heard of him--glad to know you have. And happy to hear about your writing spurt!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Another Michael Hettich fan here. (I met him through Rick Campbell of Anhinga, although MH probably doesn't remember me.)

Thanks for the review of the reading. Great process, although it would probably freak me out as well.

Yay for poetry in the world and our ability to attend readings!!!