Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Draft Process for "Lesson Seventeen" ~ Once Again, the Only Way Through is Through

87º feels like 96º ~ grass creeping higher as a result of thunderstorms and rain, no incentive to mow in liquid air, four robin chicks on the front porch continue to flourish

A few weeks ago, I described my summer writing project of collaging and then writing self-ekphrastic poems. I've been creating collages without difficulty since then. I'm working on 9" x 12" Bristol paper, both on the vertical and horizontal. The idea being that I might publish the poems alongside the collages and I'm aiming for consistency of materials / size. I'm also not using any 3-D elements on the collages.

As I said, the collages have been non-stressful in terms of creation. I set out to work with the images on a purely instinctual basis, not trying to create any narrative, not going into a piece with a pre-set idea or mood. I sift through my large image drawers and grab onto the first few items that catch my eye. Then, I bang them together on the blank page and see what's what. Mostly, I'm able to stick with instinct. Once or twice, I've had to throw an image back and search again. Once the large images are in place, I move on to filling out the piece, again trying to go with my gut and always on alert for when I reach for the easy cliché. 

Now, as for the writing, well, that has not been such an easy, gut-level thing. I have stuttered and started for days. I've gazed and gazed at the images I've created and forced some really bad lines into my journal. Today, I approached the process again with the same results, and I started to get that niggle of a voice, that whisper, "This is a disaster. You have no more poems to write. Why did you think this would work?" etc. 

I stopped. I stopped for what I thought was the day, figuring I'd collage again and try the writing later. 

But then, I thought, "Maybe I just need a clearer prompt. Maybe I need to read a prompt on writing ekphrastic poems." Even as I thought this, I knew that I knew what an ekphrastic poem was and I knew what the prompt would say; after all, I've assigned the very thing to my students. Still, I Googled. I got this brief essay from the Academy of American Poets and read:

"And modern ekphrastic poems have generally shrugged off antiquity’s obsession with elaborate description, and instead have tried to interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to their subjects."

Yes, yes, yes. Of course I knew all of this, but something about reading those four verbs "interpret, inhabit, confront, and speak to" gave me just enough of a jolt to hear a line coming through about the collage I'd just been staring at for 45 minutes. And then another line. And another.

Once again, the only way through was through. The only way to a draft was to keep my BIC (Butt In Chair) long enough to find my way through the doubt and the bad lines. I may have to relearn this every time I get to a period of silence, but perhaps I'm moving more quickly through the lesson these days.

Today's draft happens to be titled "Lesson Seventeen: Girl and Fox Consider the Nature of Time" ("Lesson Seventeen" is a scrap collaged at the bottom) and begins:

A girl gazes down a ruler's length.
A fox gazes up, noses a human scent.

I don't want to publish the complete collage now, but here's a little glimpse into a detail of the collage titled the same as the poem. This is 3.5 " x 5" from the upper right corner.

One of my goals for this project is to discover new source material for my poetry via these images. I'm hoping that letting my instinct guide me will reveal repeated images and new obsessions. Here's to the work and to the hope, in equal measure. 

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