“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
~ Frederick Douglass, African-American writer and orator
One-third of the way through the month. How you doin’, Internet?
Yesterday we talked about how chaos can be fruit for writing, as a theme (what are your emotional reactions to life’s little vicissitudes?) or as an element of process (connect-the-dots with free-write chunks). I don’t want to turn this blog into a life confessional, ever, but life does imitate art and vice versa: I’m clawing at the walls of my job, the Fellow and I are taking some breathing room time, there’s a good deal of creative self-doubt and physical dissatisfaction in my mind these days, etc. So the plunge is the natural course of these things. We go over the edge, we hope we don’t break any bones on the way down, and once we hit that pool at the bottom, we regroup and try to climb back out. I stand by my choices and opinions if they’re carefully formed, with as much objective observation and emotional understanding as I can muster, and when people ask me if I’m doing okay, I say, “No, but I know I will be.” And it’s true. I have many things to still be thankful for; but the fall is still pretty terrifying.
I keep thinking back to the Death card in Tarot, though. It’s not a bad card: it’s about allowing parts of yourself to fall away and be replaced when they don’t serve you, about embracing change and allowing who used to be to give way to the new. (The Devil and Tower cards are much worse.) A waterfall is part of the natural course of the river, transforming a placid stream into a rushing wall, and then building a new river again at the bottom. Don’t think of these cascades as moving downward, or over an edge, but rather a complete re-examination of who you are and what you’re doing. And still, the water is water, gravity is still gravity, the course is continuous. When you remove everything, you are what remains, and that is the foundation on which you rebuild your flow through life.
Enough philosophizing. It helps me sort out my personal thoughts, and (I hope) makes my headspace more clear to you. If you’re going through similar drama, maybe this line of thinking will serve you, too. But if you’re just here to get some poems out, then let’s key off this theme. Time for a severe inspiration-gather: get everything you have scribbled, drafted, or brainstormed for poems in the last ten days but haven’t used yet. (Or, there might be things to reuse, if you have particularly rich and complicated images.) Print it out or do what you have to do so that it’s all in front of you. Then, slowly, inexorably, take things away: it’s up to you whether a particular image will survive the purge or not. Some of them you might still hang onto for later, but for now you can let them be lost in the foam and spray. Others might be completely obliterated, like the lip of the Niagara’s channel, by the erosion of the falls. Get as spare as you can: if you can whittle your pile down to one or two images, that is best.
Now that you have this last thin ribbon of inspiration, write about them in a way that completely re-invents the subject. If you’re left with nothing but a cup of water, which you associate with thirst and carousing, try thinking of it as a form of currency (and where/when/why that would be so), or a hat (and what questions of balance that raises), or a skating rink for water striders, etc. If you have a kingfisher feather, don’t think quill or plume, think lost children or candy. Do some research; get wild. Then, form the thoughts that arise into a poem, one that may not focus on the change in the object itself, but does involve some kind of radical shift. We should feel a physical reaction, like we’re in a rapidly descending elevator. You can do that through some powerful emotional realization, some particularly astonishing set of images, or maybe even do concrete poetry to warp what we think a “poem” should be. Then, come share if you’ve a mind to, and don’t worry about tomorrow. There will always be more water to flow on.