Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Happy Fall

The teachers are on strike right now, so our kids are out of school. Lot's of chaos, parents having to drive around, pick up drop off, share their offices with children. Not much time in there to work much less have quiet writing spaces - the dots are tiny between lots of noisy white space and lots of dashing around.

I'm reading three books right now:

Kim Addonizio's book What is this thing called love. Excellent book, makes me want to stop writing forever. Ha. I've discovered I'm not the only one this happens to upon reading the work of other poets. Also I like this: leading. That's the word for the amount of space between lines. It means I can read the book anywhere, in any light. Kim's poems are very real, consistently transporting. I once read a sci fi story, have no memory of who wrote it sadly, about a sport where a boat would tear down a lake at great speed then put out a hook and grab onto a pole - the result being the boat would be spun violently and the competitor would be launched. Kim's poems remind me of that sport - starting out fast but ending up launched.

Dorianne Laux's book, Smoke. I already know many of these poems, thanks to the internet, but I wanted to have her book on my shelves just because.

Ted Kooser The Poetry Home Repair Manual. I love this guy. OK OK I'll admit it - I'm one of those people who believe in approachable poetry. I struggle to make my own stuff more approachable and less symbolic. Something in me looks at my approachable poems and whispers things like : boringgggg. Remembers crits like this one from the Gazebo:

"It was akin to watching a second rate movie.
I have reached the end, thank goodness! because it was one of those really boring movies where the plot is familiar and the actors inexperienced. Although the ending was so sweet and charming it made me wish that I had of paid attention. I watched it again but unfortunately the same thing happened. The movie itself was still too hard to stay focussed on even knowing how sweet and charming the ending was."

I'm in the middle of working with an editor on my poetry. So many times she has suggested I delete my last two or three lines. OMG, no no one will read the poem twice!

Anyhow, back to Kooser, his book has a lot of good advice and is presented in a very conversational manner. I might as well be sitting with him under the dragon lamp in my living room. My complaint is, you might guess, lack of white space and extremely tiny type. Some people have eyesight issues, some have brain issues (dyslexia, tracking problems etc.) - we need more books with bigger type and more whitespace.

I'm new at this - does a writer really have any control over the publishing output?

Dorianne Laux's book, for example. The titles of each poem are really big and separated from the poem itself by a line. This seems to work ok for her poems, but for many poems, the title needs to be more intimately connected with the poem. My own preference would be for titles in the same size and font as the poem, but bold and maybe with one extra line of white space between them and the poem.

As I mentioned above, I am working on my manuscript now, with the help of Susan. It is very difficult. All the toxins of life have gathered to jeer. This is a familiar trial - happens every time I decide to step away from my place of comfort. So I put my head down, pay no attention, just move forward, move forward. The work itself is pleasurable. A poem, a group of thoughts and suggestions, rework the poem, move on to the next. I started with 50 poems. I can see now 20 or 30 may not survive! Or they may ...

Wishing you all a peaceful week


Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Jude, good luck with your process, especially under such trying circumstances.

I think books often have book designers. I read a poem (I think in the 2005 Best American Poetry) by a poet who rejected her book's cover design by a French designer. The French designer condescendingly alluded to the poets southern background as a reason why she didn't "get it", and the poet wrote a poem about how much better her southern background was compared to the French. The cover ended up being done by the poet herself, I believe.

Yes, leading and kerning are two important aspects of typesetting. Some publishers do something which is called "bulking up a book" by increasing the space for leading and kerning. This spreads the type out over a larger area, and is often done to fill up more pages, making the book seem like a better value. In a poetry book, unless the lines were very long, and there were a lot of them, I don't know why they would use small type with cramped leading and kerning, unless they wanted to make a very small book.

Accessible (explicit) vs. mystifying (implicit): that's a common dilemma. We don't want the reader to be totally clueless, but we don't want them to feel the work is so familiar that their response is "so what?" I think as long as we don't believe we have the solution nailed, we will be ok. Once we think we know the definitive balance, it will probably signal the deterioration of our art. For some poems I try to balance both accessibility and mystery within the same poem, and some poems I allow to be very explicit (usually humorous ones for public reading) and some poems I allow to be more implicit and evocative (written more for the page than the stage.) And I never feel 100% sure about anything.

As for critiquing, I think the longer we write and the more sense we get of our craft, the larger the grain of salt we need in digesting the opinions of others. That goes for positive as well as negative response.

Always a pleaure to read your musings,

5:51 AM  
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