October 02, 2008

Tracking the Muse

Thanks to everyone who came out to American University last night for my reading; we had a full house. It has been such a pleasure to go back and visit classes (with one more next week). If sharing my trials, tribulations, and pratfalls make it a little easier for a future poet to make her way into the world, I am content.

Blackbird has posted a portfolio called "Tracking the Muse," in which four writers from the Spring issue's "Introductions" loop contributed short essays on process. Jehanne Dubrow and I had talked about our essays on the long drive down to Sewanee, but this is my first chance to see the actual texts. An excerpt from each (names link to the original Blackbird work; the excerpt links to the full process essay):

Jehanne Dubrow:

...It is time to make something up of whole cloth. Ida Lewin is a poet too, but she works in Yiddish, a language you have never learned. She lives and dies many decades before you were born, in the Polish town of AlwaysWinter, a place that only exists on a map you draw from imagination. Ida is Orthodox where you are Reform, a mother where you are not. She believes in the magic of white cranes and mermaids, the Evil eye, the power of prayer to reshape the body....


Terry Gibson:

...You find a remark or gesture that you sense defines a character, let him or her say or do it over and over in your mind, testing it for plausibility and truth, and then write a play for them. The play itself can be a complete fabrication of events and actions real or imagined. You may add or dispense scenes or characters to your heart’s content. But not that first utterance. All that follows should bear some connection to it, even remotely....


Miroslav Penkov:

...A few years ago, just before I started my MFA at the University of Arkansas, I understood something with delightful terror. Literature, though firmly founded in language, transcends words. There are elements like character development, point of view, plot, that are universal, that stand above language, and thus one can create sensible literature, meaningful art, even with second-rate English. Honesty dictates this confession—if I fail in my stories, it is not because I write them in a stepmother tongue....


Sandra Beasley:

Piet Mondrian—he of the sleek, colorful, highly-pressurized geometries—sometimes sketched his ideas on the back of cigarette packs. An X-radiograph of his Trafalgar Square shows that those carefully structured lines were really repainted freehand, over and over, in minute and somewhat random increments. White over white; bands of color unencumbered by black masking. “More boogie-woogie,” Mondrian said to a gallery owner, in explanation of his revisions....

...the process stories that matter are the ones that reveal. I’m not talking about mellow, feel-good images of longhand script on a legal pad. I’m talking about the Wizard of Oz cowering behind his curtain. I’m talking about our selfish but understandable need for a tiny bit of proof that Ezra was ruthless; that Eliot was in love with his own voice; that Joyce was sloppy; that Faulkner was lazy. The glow of satisfaction in knowing that Mondrian, an icon of minimalism, sometimes required a thousand imperfect gestures to add up to one straight line....


I like this idea of posting new material "between" issues that deepens our understanding of artists already presented. The trend is reflected in the biweekly postings at Anti- and other online journals; one of the unique advantages internet publication has over print.

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