Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Writer's Diary #18- Advice and a Revisit

Last week on the Words At Large website I read an interview with Newfoundland poet Mary Dalton who offered up advice for poets just starting out. Since I'm a fan, and a poet just starting out, I thought I'd reflect on her words of wisdom.

1. Read voraciously, in all genres, in all centuries. Read authors from many cultures.

I've been working on this. I have to admit, my selections are a little too biased towards contemporary, Eurocentric picks. I've known this was a problem for a while but I've never made the effort to remedy it. I've also been considering cutting back on the reading to get more writing done, but this is all I need to hear to keep me flipping those pages.

2. Get a good grounding in the craft of poetry by whatever methods work for you.

Occasionally I've picked up university texts which have explained the ins-and-outs of poetry; rhyme schemes, meter, and so forth. In the past year I've also picked up a How To Write Poetry book, as well as Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve's In Fine Form which discussed what defines specific poems and provided examples from established poets. Again, I feel like I could be doing more.

3. Recognize that it will take years of living and reading and writing to make the best poems you have in you.

I have a problem with this one. It's impatience I know. But at least I'm aware that I'm not writing as best as I could potentially write, so I've at least given up submitting embarrassing poems to magazines. A few years ago I sent out a bunch that I still cringe over. Secretly I know there's a room full of publishers still laughing at me. Come to think of it, maybe I also have confidence issues.

4. Carry a notebook. Write every day.

I don't write everyday. I had a job recently which gave me 2 fifteen minute coffee breaks every
day, during which time I'd walk (with the notebook) to the nearby coffee shop, grab a quick cup and write. Since then, my job has switched and I'm finding it exceedingly difficult to find the time to write. Just 15 minutes. I have to be more disciplined. Or give up blogging (it's not real writing, you know!).

5. Try to find like-minded friends who will read and respond to your poems.

Why I can't give up blogging. Actually, I don't post everything I write. But I am appreciative of the feedback when I do. I should post more. I also have the writing club, which is fine, but most others aren't all that into poetry and so "like-minded" doesn't exactly fit. I also had a colleague in Newfoundland whom I enjoyed sharing poems with, but approaching new people with, "Wanna read my poems?" usually gets me strange looks.

Also, when asked to describe her writing process Dalton said (among other things), "I like to let drafts sit for long periods of time—years, ideally. Then I work on them with the cold eye of an editor." I like this. It forces me to be patient, plus it forces me to reread my older stuff. To be honest, reading something I've written two years ago appeals to me about as much as eating meatloaf from two years ago. My usual reaction is, "UGH! What was I thinking?" but maybe I can learn from that, even if I can't salvage any of the words.

Today however, I did salvage something. I've been saving my writing for a while now, and today I went back and found one that I didn't despise. It was inspired by the biography of Emily Carr. I've included both the original draft and changes I've made today. Sorry about using pictures. I've had to include them as bitmaps since the second version has a lot of indentations that blogger simply won't let me do.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

To find a year and a half old meatloaf, er, poem that still works, well that's cause for celebration, my son!

Sorry I can't switch back to check on the rest of the changes that I noticed which I liked (without losing all this hard work of typing comments), but I think it makes it a lot more powerful and immediate and more, I don't know, poem-like, that you removed the "as". The crows feet are now a reality instead of just a comparison.

Nice work.

John Mutford said...

Thanks Barbara,
See? Feedback. Just what the doctor ordered. Thanks.

Allison said...

Poetry is all around today. I was writing some, after reading some of my new poetry purchases.

I agree with Barbara, wonderful poem (you need pop-up comments here), I especially enjoyed the first verse.

John Mutford said...

To switch back and forth, I usually open up a new tab.

Thanks for the kind words Allison. Glad to hear poetry was all around you today. It's on life-support at this point, you know.