Saturday, April 25, 2009

This morning I've been writing a capsule description of my presentation at the Woolf Conference in June, which, in my case, entails figuring out what to say at the conference in the process of writing about what I want to say at the conference. (Do other people function this way, or do you invent your ideas before you start writing them down?)

In any case, this is what I ended up saying: "Dawn Potter will read and discuss excerpts from her poem 'Peter Walsh,' which borrows the name of a character from Mrs. Dalloway but otherwise has no plot link to the novel. Dawn will talk about how Woolf's grammar and syntax, particularly as they reveal the fluidity of thought, impelled the creation of her poem but also led to various structural and narrative snags that reared up along the way."

I suddenly thought, as I was writing this description, that it might be interesting to hear someone talk about the mistakes that arise during creation: how you can write yourself into a tangle, even when you're writing really well. This poem, "Peter Walsh," is a case in point. I was immensely under the influence of Woolf's sentences, which I found very effective as a way to shift  time, memory, and perception back and forth between the poem's two characters. But the larger narrative structure--the big chunks of time--became snarled. In fact, it took outside readers--the editors at the Beloit Poetry Journal, which eventually published the poem--to solve those problems. The Woolf influence had pressed me so closely to the language that I was not able, alone, to stand away from it, to look at it from above, as it were.

I wouldn't be surprised to learn that Woolf herself had similar problems. The density of her writing makes dispassionate revision--even dispassionate evaluation--very difficult.

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