Saturday, February 4, 2012

Constructing Poems, Constructing Reading

I finally got around to writing a poem about Jesus and the modern Lego set.  You may or may not remember that I have lamented that modern Legos don't seem to snap together as easily as older sets, and you've got a wider variety of Lego shapes.  What does Jesus have to do with this?  My brain swirled with Jesus as stumped creator, Jesus being taught by children.  As I wrote, I thought about my process and how the Internet has changed my process.

Some of the ways are obvious.  When I couldn't remember the specific names of children's construction toys of earlier generations, I didn't have to wait until the library opened.  For some poems, I've done Internet research in the middle of the poem composing, and the poem has gone in surprising directions that wouldn't have happened, if I hadn't stopped to research.  Often, the pictures that I find spark something that I didn't have before.

Once, I thought I had to have the poem written in my head and that I had to sit and stare at a notebook and not get up until I had a finished draft.

Now, thanks largely to the Internet, I've realized that there are a wide variety of ways of composing.  I've been fascinated by Sandy Longhorn's process (go here for an example).  When she's stuck, she often turns to books of poems and creates word banks and goes in remarkable-sounding directions.  And she starts composing before she sits down, largely by reminding herself the night before that she's got a writing appointment in the morning.

I've been noticing how much time I spend waiting for meetings to start.  I should start jotting down ideas.  I tend to like to write in the dark hours of the morning when I know I won't be disturbed.  What might I create if I knew I only had a few minutes so that I had to make them count?

I've also been thinking about the ways that the Internet has changed reading.  Dale Favier has a great post on the so-called death of the author.  He points out that "mainstream publishing was never good for writers. It never employed even a sizable fraction of the good ones. It promoted an idea of the “author” – meaning always and only, someone who writes a new novel every year or two for decades – that is limited and deadening. And it was incredibly centralized: the whole system orbited around a close, interlinked coterie of the graduates of a few universities, who had moved on (or, usually, back) to live one of the three capitals of literary English."

He concludes by celebrating the brave new world that the Internet has wrought:  "The fact that the dissemination of writing has become so cheap as to make it nearly free, that the classics are readily available, that the wealth of the literary world stands open to anyone who can afford an internet connection, is the most wonderful thing that has happened in my lifetime. It is a great good thing, and while I'm not surprised that the people who stood to profit by literary scarcity are complaining about it, I'm not about to join them. Today I will read some marvelous poems that a friend who lives off in the sticks of Kent sent me, and continue to review the manuscript of a terrific book on massage that another friend in Texas is preparing for publication. I wouldn't even know these people, if not for the internet. I would most likely never have seen the work of either of them, under the old dispensation. I'm willing to take the risk, in return, that I might miss Don DeLillo's 16th novel. I'll even forgo the $50,000 advance that Random House was poised to offer me to continue writing this blog."

I've noticed the appearance of several recent books that explore the issue of reading:  how we read, what we read, how to get more joy out of reading.  Lauren Winner, who revealed herself to be a voracious reader in her memoir Girl Meets God, reviews several of them in this essay which becomes more of a meditation on reading than a simple review.

For my next book club meeting, I've been slogging through James Michener's The Source, a book that clocks in at over 1000 pages.  You might ask, "How did you come to choose a book that's over 1000 pages?"

Well, about 6 months ago, we were reminiscing about books that had influenced us, and we talked about reading The Source--at least two of us read it long ago, and we talked about learning about the Middle East by reading Michener. I innocently said, "I wonder if we'd still see it as so revelatory now."

In my younger days, back in high school before I could drive, I could have finished this book in a week.  But now, I don't have those wide swaths of time.  It's thrilling to be reading a really big book.  I had forgotten.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, again, for the mention, Kristin. I'm struck by your comment about using the minutes before a meeting starts to draft. I, too, am someone who tends to want those long expanses of uninterrupted time; however, I've read, time and time again, this advice from authors they admire: write as if you only have moments to live. What demands to be said in those brief moments? (This question scares the sh*t out of me, but I think it is the right question.) Thanks for the reminder of that!

Sandy Longhorn said...

from authors "I" admire..."they" ?? ack!