Thursday, January 27, 2011

I've spent all week waiting for a giant editing project to appear on my stoop. Every morning I've woken up thinking, "Today is the day I stop having time to write," and every day UPS does not show up in my driveway with an oversized box. So I've been in the position of having to make the most of these unexpectedly empty days. Meanwhile, I've been struggling with anti-inspiration, with being out of the zone. The process of writing feels chunky, slow, laborious. I might as well be a plumber.

That sensation doesn't necessarily mean that I'm writing badly. What it means is that I've lost my rose-colored glasses behind the couch. What it means is that writing feels like breaking rocks in the hot sun: bashing out one word after another, after another, after another, instead of floating glibly in a blue-green, image-laden sea.

Still, I made a poem that stares back at me: sharp and hard and glinting. I invented a character who assumed her own whirlwind being for eleven stanzas. Next week I might I feel differently about her and her poem. For now, I'm feeling like Sisyphus, on the morning he thinks he's found a little dip in the mountainside that just might keep his stone from rolling.

This week, as I've been wrestling with my own poem, I received my friend Anne Britting Oleson's chapbook The Beauty of It in the mail. I have no idea how she wrote these poems--in blue-green sea or in hot sun. That's the thing: when it comes to the final product--once it's been carved out, planed, and sanded; once the nail holes are filled, the varnish spread--you can't tell how hard or easy the piece was to write. What you have, in this case, is a small, deceptively plain, deceptively clear-eyed recounting of a situation. What you have is a sentence-driven poem speckled with dull little words at the ends of the lines: "And." "Much." "The." "In." What I hear, when I say the poem aloud, is that those line breaks were not accidents . . . not at all, not in the least. They might even be more important than "tumbling" and "desperately" in the final stanza. They might be the real story.


Anne Britting Oleson

A year since I've seen you, and
two men I know make
offers in the same day. One wheedles:
nobody needs to know. No,
I answer, everyone always finds out.

The other suggests sex
will liven up the friendship.
Or kill it, I can't help reply.

They are both too short. And
married. But this emptiness
warns it wouldn't take much
to change my mind, to tip the
scales in either's direction,

and I'd be back, as I've
been too often, tumbling in
the grass, on a back seat,
somewhere, anywhere, wanting
desperately for it to be you.


M.L. Gallagher said...

Powerful poem

Powerful imagery in your verse.

Sisyphus hoping for a dip in the downhill road.


Ruth said...

I agree that the line breaks are so intentional. I am always thrilled when my 5th graders talks so knowly about where the line breaks occur in their own work when I struggle just to write as well as they do! I really like the images aabout your writing struggles.

Dawn Potter said...

That IS thrilling about your 5th graders, Ruth. And thanks for the kind words about the writing-struggle descriptions. This situation has gone on for a while, and it's starting to wear me down: but for the moment I'm still banging away at the rocks with my pickaxe.

Maureen said...

Maybe it's because I spend a lot of time figuring out where I want line breaks, I appreciate those in "Proposition".

In one of those strange concurrences, one of the Post's advice columnists featured this morning a letter about affairs with married men. And then I come here and find this powerful little poem.