Friday, May 25, 2012

The Sickly Speaker: A Problem of Logistics

87º ~ the heat is on, externally, the amount of time for open windows in the a.m. shortens daily (poor kitties!), some cloud cover today ~ not enough to stop the heat, not enough for rain ~ rumors of a drought begin to simmer

The Sick Woman by Jan Steen, click for link

Having been away from drafting for a bit, I felt drawn to re-read all of my sickly speaker poems to immerse myself in her voice, to see if there is more to be learned.  I put in several hours yesterday morning and got through ten poems, the oldest of the bunch.  As I read, I tweaked.  I hemmed and hawed and thought a lot about the arrangement of the poems.  As I've been writing the drafts in some semblance of chronological order, one would think this would be a no-brainer.  Still it requires some shuffling, especially of those poems at the beginning, which came about before I knew there was a book-length narrative at work.

This morning, starting again from the beginning I read through the whole of them, these poems that have now become this new manuscript. 

A note about my process in moving from individual poem to placement in the manuscript.  As each poem was drafted, the printed copy sat in my "in progress" manila folder for anywhere from a month to six months.  During my time for revision I would work on the poems.  Once the poems felt "set," I created individual manila folders for the printed copy of each poem, and I added duplicate copies to another manila folder marked "sickly speaker." (I stress, these are tangible folders, not icons on the desktop.)  Today, while working through each poem's minor revisions, I also thought about the big picture of the narrative and began to seriously order the poems.  After another two hours, I'd made it through the stack of "set" poems, all 27, shuffling them into what I think of as the narrative so far.  I have four left in my "in progress" folder, giving me 31 in all.  I spent the last half hour creating a new document in Word and setting each poem in its place.

Herein lies the logistical problem.  These poems are evolving as a group with a singular voice.  The epistolary poems provide the backbone of the chronology.  Yet, each poem must be read and revised as it stands on its own.  So, I have two computer files and two printed files for each poem: one, the file of the single poem and two, the newly created file of the budding manuscript.  The problem is this, I must remember that when I revise in the single file, that I must copy and paste into the larger file of the manuscript.  In fact, I'd already begun this sort of system in hard copies with my "sickly speaker" manila folder.  Several of the hard copies I read from were not the latest revisions, which rested in that individual poem's own manila folder.  Dizzying.  I was pleased, though, that I ended up re-creating a near exact revision of one of the poems when I failed to read the updated version.  After figuring this out, I started with what was on the computer and went from there.

That's all a minor issue of organization.  I found another "problem" of interest.  As I wrote each individual poem, I used whatever time of the year I was experiencing for any reference to calendar time, especially in the epistolary poems.  Now, I see that the result most likely won't work.  The speaker will have been hospitalized far too long of a time.  I say this not so much b/c I'm worried about reality, but b/c I'm now so familiar with her voice and situation.  Where the poems began with August, and the transplant/transfusion took place sometime in January, I think I'll need to condense that timeline a bit and maybe start in September.  I will also, most likely, spend some time going back to March - May and filling in some there.  The letters to the speaker's mentor are broken up by her ramblings and musings about her body and her situation.

Another surprise occurred today.  I'd drafted a poem that indicated it took place after the transplant/transfusion.  On re-reading it today, I realized that it had to come earlier than that.  Then, I noticed that there was really only one clause in the whole poem that referred to the procedure, so I cut that and rearranged a bit and then put it where it belonged.  This kind of revision is so new to me, never having dealt with a sustained speaker/narrative before.  Weird.  In the past, I wouldn't even be looking at the manuscript level until I had at least 50 poems that seemed to hold, loosely, together, so none of this revision trouble would have occurred.  Each poem would have been taken on its own.

Finally, I paid attention to form.  As frequent readers may know, I'm a bit addicted to the couplet when drafting.  Having had some time pass from the initial draft to the revision, I was able to really ask myself if the couplets worked.  In several poems, I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover that they didn't!  I had to re-craft at the stanza level rather than at the word/line level.  OH!  And I also got read of all my double spaces after the period if a sentence ended within the middle of a line.  I tell you, it is a hard, hard habit to break for those of us trained up on ye old typewriter machines.

All of this is to say that I've been working hard and now feel poised to draft whatever's coming next.  I hope I will find more to say on the sickly speaker's behalf, as she is still institutionalized (tho healing).  I must see if she will be released or languish there.  I must see what becomes of her relationship with her mentor and the woman she calls mother by mistake.  Also, I've begun to wonder if I need a few "interludes," poems that would provide a glimpse beyond the speaker's room/pt. of view, something to supplement her voice.  Who knows?


Kristin said...

Thanks for this window into your process, especially the putting together of a book process. I don't find as much out there about how a book comes together (lots about how individual poems are composed). Fascinating!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, Kristin! It's certainly been very different from how books 1 and 2 came together.