Monday, August 1, 2016

Project Complete: The Benefit of a Deadline

87º feels like 99º ~ the soupy air continues unabated with enough thunderstorms interspersed to keep the grass green, the birds fed, and the squirrels happy, all progresses apace

Today, I've completed my summer project: Self-Ekphrasis 20 x 20. Since May 15th, I've created 20 new collages and 20 new poem drafts. Wahooooooooooooooza!

Here, I'd like to praise the deadline in all its boring glory. And, in this case, the deadline was imposed by an outside force. I'm grateful to the University of Central Arkansas's University Research Council for supporting my creative works (yes, they have creative works written into the language alongside "research" projects) with a summer stipend. This is not something I'll be able to receive very often, but I was lucky enough to receive one my first summer as an assistant professor. Along with this stipend, though, comes the writing of the final report, which must be turned in to the URC soon, so I've had a very real deadline with a very real product associated with it to keep me on track.

Knowing that I was accountable for my progress certainly helped me maintain my motivation over these long, sweltering summer days when I've mostly wanted to sleep and watch Cubs baseball. In a larger sense, I was motivated as well to keep my BIC (Butt In Chair) because now my ability to publish matters to my career in a new way. At the community college where I worked previously, faculty were not evaluated on research and publication. I got lots of emotional support for being a working poet alongside being a college instructor, but the two were not tied together. In this new position at a four-year university, publication is not only expected, it is required in my quest for tenure.

Yes, many days, I write because I'm moved to do so, and when I don't write I get grouchy and unbearable. However, the same can be said for exercise and eating well. Sometimes, it helps to have the extra boost of a deadline, of an outside force holding one's self accountable. In the past, I've used poet-friends to set deadlines of exchanged work, or I've put submission deadlines on my calendar from journals and presses that I admire. And, yes, sometimes, I am able to set my own deadlines (one poem per day for two weeks straight, for example) and see them through.

It's not a very sexy idea about writing, but it is what works for me, especially when I'm struggling. And, at the beginning of this stretch, I was struggling to get the words out of my head/body and onto the page/screen. For these last handful of poems based on the collages, the lines flowed with that old familiar ease, reminding me that "yes, I am a poet." I won't lie; it felt good.

My next step for the project will be to work on revising the poems and beginning to send them out to journals that seem receptive to publishing art next to words. This might mean a lot of online journals b/c printing color art on paper is expensive, and I don't think the collages will work in black and white. As I've been reflecting on the project for the final report, the idea of revision popped up. It takes me 3 - 4 hours to create each collage, a time shortened by the fact that I spend hours while I'm watching baseball and Law & Order reruns cutting up images and storing them by category. During the time I spend creating the collage, I'm working through the revision process as I go, selecting images from my hoards, shifting them around on the page, discarding some and choosing others, sometimes making additional adjustments with my scissors, fragmenting an image even more. Once I get out the glue stick, the process is, by and large, finished. I know I could go back and add images or paste over ones I've chosen originally, but I don't. This is very different from poetry, where the revision process, for me, really can't begin until the poems have had time to stew and I've had time to gain some distance from the originating spark. Also, when I revise the poems, I'll definitely be cutting words and adding words, playing with the images in new ways.

There's no grand conclusion about this revision observation. I simply find it fascinating how the two separate art forms are so close together and yet so far apart.

I'll leave you with a few details from some of the collages I've worked on lately, and I'll let you know when and where you can see and read the completed works.


Kathleen said...

Congrats! And thanks for these images, too. And YES to the power of deadlines!!

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, K!

Mary Alexandra Agner said...

Congratulations! And thanks for continuing to share with us on your blog :)

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks, MAA!