Monday, October 13, 2014

travels thru the 'net

i'm an addicted traveler of the ether.  like most of us i read a shitload of poems and essays online.  when i fall in love with a writer i will often follow their work via the internet using google to search for interviews, essays, poems, pieces of fiction and so forth.

i am a late bloomer.  i didn't seriously read until i was 16 years old.  i knew i wanted to be a writer.  i wrote a lot of shit, and i do mean shit, for a very long time.  i read bios of writers and painters to figure out how they did it.  one thing bios of writers and painters never seemed to mention: money.  how did the writers and painters of yore make ends meet?  that is a topic for another day.  suffice it to say when i wrote i revised and revised and revised.  i revised because the great writers of the 20th century demanded rigorous and religious revision to the work.  i recall a documentary i saw in my early 20s about james joyce.  an actor portraying the great genius described a full day's work.  what did joyce accomplish that day?  two sentences.

revision has its place.  i remember a quote by kurt vonnegut that said something like revision allows mediocre minds an improvement.  okay.  sure.  but then something happened to me.  i started to write fast.  with little revision.  i don't claim my work to be any better for lack of revision but for me writing a poem in one sitting without the agony of having to make hundreds of drafts was liberating.  a little later in my 20s i discovered ted berrigan.  the great NYC poet was not only prolific but a generous soul.  he said, don't worry about meter and rhyme, poets have a little guy tucked in the office of their minds that take care of such things.  i don't know if berrigan was a heavy reviser.  i suspect for his Sonnets he was.  but for his later poems, perhaps he simply let them fly.

so the other night when i was bone tired but still awake i found this article, writing or rewriting, by poet paul nelson.  the gist is this, heavy revision is a 20th century invention based on the development of the typewriter.  heavy revision is, i might add, a romantic vision of the writer suffering for her art.  all of which is nonsense.  i recall a course on shakespeare when the professor told us a particular play was written in two weeks by the bard.  i don't recall the play but i remember thinking two fucking weeks?  that's it?!  i suspect the bard did not do any heavy revision to his play.

turns out nelson compiled a list of poets who also try to write in one sitting.  among them is my man jose kozer and, if you click the link above and scroll down, you'll find the prolific canadian poet george bowering who in his photo is wearing a motorhead t-shirt and flipping us the bird [don't get much cooler than than]!

sit down, shut up, and write.  revision has its place in writing.  i've got into the habit to write one draft and post it here.  i will revise, later, if the piece is going to be read in public or published elsewhere.  many times the pieces i publish here need revision.  but sitting down, shutting up, and writing gets me to where i need to be in writing and life.  for i don't separate writing and life.  we only get one chance in this life.  no practice and no do-overs.  writing we could argue is a place where we can have do-overs.  hence we need to revise.  okay.  sure.  but then when we face the blank page and/or screen we can suffer fear of not getting it right.  the result becomes a poetic impotence.  we become mute and unable to perform.  the pressures are too great.  so if that is the case, say fuck it.  no one demanded you to become a poet.  it is a calling you feel within you.  damn, to use a phrase by charles bernstein, official verse culture, or, i might add, MFAs.  we make and break the rules as we go.  including the rule of heavy, radical revision.  we just need to simply sit down and write.  


At 11:58 AM, Blogger Glenn Ingersoll said...

Practice trends toward improvement - both revision and first creation are writing - are practice.

A poet friend was telling me this weekend that an editor at a big publishing company told her her memoir manuscript was excellent, but made suggestions for revision. My friend did the revisions and did think the ms. was improved. The editor, however, still declined to publish the memoir - the memoir remains unpublished. How do writers make money? On the whole, they don't.

The work better be the main payment, especially for poets.

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Paul Nelson said...

Thanks for the plug, Richard. I think there is something in the spontaneous that allows us to tap into something bigger than we are, so there is some ineffable quality there. That does not mean never revise, but I think there is a continuum ranging from the totally received poem (or play, prose piece &c) and that which is written with the outcome already decided, the quintessentially closed. I lean toward the open, as does your man Kozer, and once you get a taste for the open, all the closed work - no matter how crafty - comes across as a little bloodless.

At 10:16 PM, Blogger richard lopez said...

thanks to you both, paul and glenn. i agree utterly with both of you. there is no reward in poetry but the work of writing and reading. and you know, with that metric [if i may borrow a phrase from corporate america] we poets are the richest in the world.

of course writing needs revision. but i don't think writers have to agonize over it. writing is not painful. it is pleasurable. it is one of the most pleasurable acts one can do in life. i'm not too keen on the romantic agonistes. just sit down, shut up, and write, already!


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