Wednesday, May 27, 2015

In Praise of Poetry Notebooks and Legal Pads

It's been awhile since I've typed poems into the computer.  I usually write my rough drafts on a purple legal pad.  As I've said before,I used to type them and then put the legal pad in a drawer.  Lately, for the past half decade or more, I've just been putting the pad in the drawer as I finish without typing any poems or sending them out into the world. 

But when do I return to them?

In February of 2014, while at Mepkin Abbey, I looked through various legal pads and typed the poems that needed to be in my book-length manuscript revision.  In fact, that's usually why I return to the legal pads.  I can't remember the last time that I typed poems without a larger project in mind.

But that's what I've been doing for the past week.  Let me record my insights.

--I've said it before, but it bears repeating.  I read the poems and can see the thread of the lectionary readings that tinge my metaphors.  Or is it just because those words are always lurking in my subconscious?  Bones, breath, ash, beads, water, wine, flame, stars:  some future grad student can weave a dissertation around these words.

--I am also inspired by science:  stuff I'm reading, stuff I'm hearing on NPR, and more rarely, stuff I see on PBS TV specials.  What will a future grad student make of these threads?  Will it be hard for that future grad student to reconcile the poet who's informed by science with the poet who uses the language of liturgy and the Bible?

--Dave Bonta's blog, where I find the poems that Luisa A. Igloria writes each day, inspires me quite often too. At one point, she wrote a series of poems about the Buddha, who went to a therapist and the dentist, who moved through modern daily life in a variety of ways.  Inspired by her work, I wrote a few more of my Jesus in the world poems.  I named the one about Jesus at the yoga class "Son Salutations."

--I go through the legal pads and often only find a poem that's worthy of being typed into the computer once or twice per legal pad.  Most legal pads cover 6 months of writing.  One or two per six months?  Really?

--But occasionally, there are bursts, poem after poem that takes my breath away.  I'm typing much of the legal pad into the computer.  Almost every poem written in a 6 month period seems worthy of being sent out into the world.  Is it cyclical?  Could I do something to trigger those bursts so that they happen more often?  Or should I just be grateful that they come at all?

--I'm usually working with legal pads from the past few years.  I rarely go back further.  I wonder if future Kristin would find something in the notebooks that present Kristin has rejected. 

--I've read many a how-to-write book, and so many suggest going back through old notebooks, claiming rejected lines, making something new.  I almost never do that, once the legal pad has gone into the drawer.  I wonder if I should?

--So far, though, I'm not seeing many abandoned lines which suggest anything new.  Perhaps I vaguely recall where I was headed with an idea, and so it's hard to come at it from a different angle.  But I suspect something darker, for me as a writer:  if a poem turns out to be stillborn, or half-formed, or malformed, there's not much use mangling it further.

--I'm happy to report that I leaf through old notebooks, and I'm pleased with my life's work as a poet.  And I'm intensely curious to see where I head next.

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