Tuesday, January 1, 2008

More reps, more work (in a good way)

A new year, new resolutions.

I love resolutions. I make them at the solstices, the equinoxes, the beginning of the school year—but New Year's Day is the big day for trying to mend, amend, atone, and generally plan improvements.

In the coming year, I want to exercise more and ride my bike more—which requires getting on my bike (it's still dark, it's still cold out).

I also want to exercise my poetry muscles more, or more deeply.

Over the past few days, I've been trying to figure out how.

I thought about trying to take a picture every day and then write about the picture.

I thought about trying to write about food again—hey, I could take a picture of food every day and write about that.

Not bad ideas. Good ways to keep writing. But ultimately, they sound too prescriptive or restrictive—even a bit like busywork.

Then I thought about trying to get to the heart of the poem, each and every poem. How do you do that?

In the past, I've tried setting minimums, saying that each poem should go through at least five revision passes. But those were mostly my tweaky little revisions.

So I thought that maybe I should try at least Five Big Things with each poem. Big Things like taking each stanza and writing a new poem or finding the trap doors and writing from each of them or distilling the poem to its central image and writing a new poem about it every day for ten days (see, these really do sound like exercises—and is that a good thing?) or cutting the poem into separate phrases and playing around with rearranging them or … I've made it up to four.

I'm taken with that notion, and maybe Three Big Things are enough of a start. And some poems seem kind of just done without all of that. But are they?

How do you know when a poem is done? How do you know when you've reached the heart of it?

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