I get really excited about the Ides of March because everyone runs around quoting Shakespeare all day (and most of them don’t even know it).
At any rate.
I wrote a story this week. It doesn’t quite have an ending yet, but it will. This is particularly significant for me because it marks the first time in about 13 years that I have written a piece of prose with the intention of being literary. I have spent the last 13 years focusing all of my energy on poetry. I was pretty sure I’d forgotten how to write prose that wasn’t a blog entry or an email. But a few weeks ago I wrote a long (for me) poem – about 35 lines – and I still couldn’t say what I wanted to say in it. The lines were long and the stanzas were dense, and I just couldn’t get there. I mentioned in a casual way to Donna that I thought it might be better off as a story, and she nodded at me encouragingly. And then I forgot about it for awhile.
Saturday I went to Borders for writing time as usual. I watched as the others who joined me engrossed themselves in writing, and I sat staring at a blank page. I revised a poem (once about a wren, now about a turkey vulture), sent two submissions out, and then stared some more at the blank page. I bought some books, drank a chai, and then stared again at the blank page. I tried to eat Indian for dinner (alas, the restaurant was too full) and ended up with sushi, and then I stared even longer at the blank page.
Sunday I went to see a marvelous play at the Wilma Theater – In the Next Room by Sarah Ruhl is funny and sad and moving and uncomfortable, all at once. I left feeling excited about art (good art always does this to me; see Amanda Palmer) and after dinner Donna and I settled down to start writing again. I opened the long poem and started turning it into prose. By Monday night, I’d written about 9 pages (2700 words, I have to remember to count words not pages) and I am still confused.
Perhaps it’s because I am now so tuned in to the poetry muse that I can (mostly) coax it out at will. Of course, I say that very cavalierly, but the past few weeks have shown a different picture – blank page after blank page staring me in the face when I think about poetry. And now I don’t even want to read much poetry. I am avoiding links on Twitter and Facebook, looking guiltily at books by Ross Gay and Terrance Hayes that I wanted so desperately to read, but now can’t bear to pick up. Maybe it’s due to the submission bender I’ve been on, and what that means: 8 manuscript contests since the first of January, along with 8 submissions of groups of poems to journals. That means 16 different pairs of eyes (at least!) looking at my work. 16 people judging my work. 16 people who are eventually going to say something to me about my worth as a poet.
That’s a lot of pressure.
Normally I don’t get this wound up about submissions. I know the rules – it’s not personal; every editor has a different aesthetic; one man’s junk is another’s treasure, blah blah blah. And truly, I usually don’t get upset. I even have my latest rejection from Columbia Poetry Review thumbtacked to the kitchen corkboard so that I don’t forget to submit there again. But I’ve spent the last three years of my life crafting the poems that went into the manuscript, and I’m not sure what it will feel like when someone tells me “No, thank you, those three years were not very interesting.” Because they were – and are – interesting to me. And to a few other people, I think.
As Donna says: 85 % kickass, 15 % crippling self doubt.
So I think I just got sick of poems. Overexposure. Too much of my own self-doubt wrapped up in there. I hope it’s only a short term allergy.
Writing fiction is a different kind of impulse for me. I didn’t realize how hard it was to live with the same voice for so long, to keep pushing through even though my brain has worked out whatever issue it had. And listening to Donna talk about fiction for the past couple of years has made me hyper aware of how much there is to consider: tension, voice, tone, mood, climax, action, the whole show-vs.-tell thing, POV, oh my god it’s entirely too much. Of course all these things happen in poems too, to a certain extent, but because the form is (generally) so much more compressed, you have less of an opportunity to screw it up. Or at least, you can identify (and then fix) pretty quickly where you went wrong. In fiction, the sheer length is intimidating. 3,000 words? Are you kidding? The last poem I wrote had 1/10 that number of words.
Of course Donna tells me the story is good, that she likes the pacing and the action. That I should consider sending it somewhere. And I run in to the same old problem:
85 % kickass, 15 % crippling self doubt.