Apologies to Elizabeth Bishop for today's title.
True confessions: I wrote a draft today, and it is terrible.
As frequent readers know, I’ve been out of the habit of drafting new poems for several months, but I feel ready to begin again. The sickly speaker has had her say and her book is finished. I know with certainty that there isn’t another poem in me that belongs to that manuscript, which was relatively complete by the end of August. The fall semester was a fallow time for writing new drafts. I tinkered with the sickly speaker and fine-tuned that manuscript. I read poems for Heron Tree, feeling my way into how to be an editor rather than a poet. I had wonderful conversations about poetry and publishing with my co-editors. But, I didn’t write, perhaps because the sickly speaker had been so strong a voice that it took a while to put her to rest (or let her go), perhaps because I was awash in the words of other poets.
Regardless, each time I go through a quiet time of no new drafts, I have to remind myself that this is normal for me. This is part of my process. It is all going to be okay. Do not panic. Rest and recover. Reboot and re-energize. Let it be. Don't poke. Don't pick. Don't make it worse.
Now, after the quiet time, a new subject is taking root, and like the sickly speaker, this subject is taking root as a whole "project." For books #1 and #2, I was definitely a "mix-tape" writer, gathering poems loosely connected to obsessions with the land and the people of the Midwest, with gender and family, with confession. The sickly speaker changed all that and offered me her one voice, for which I will be forever grateful. Now, without saying too much and scaring them away, I'm hearing multiple voices surrounding one conflict, and I can envision multiple speakers as I work through this new (difficult, personal, painful) material. Unlike the sickly speaker, I'm dabbling in a more autobiographical area with the few poems that came about in November & December and now here at the beginning of a new semester.
So, I'm committed to writing a draft a week as my goal (excluding AWP week!), and today I began the journey with something that is truly awful. But, I remember, this is part of the process as well, and this terribly, ugly draft is worth every minute I spent on it. I am shifting gears in my brain and transferring my energy back over to the nebulous center that generates words, lines, stanzas, and yes, whole poem drafts. Each attempt will get easier, just like with a physical workout; I will be rewarded by training and repetition, and while I am loathe to exercise my body, I love to exercise my poet-mind. (I have an image of my poet-mind in leg-warmers, head band, and leotard a la Olivia Newton John's "Let's Get Physical" video from the 80s. Now, that's an inspiration!)