Friday, July 25, 2014

A cool morning. Two days ago I tore out my exhausted peavines, and this morning I will replant the beds with a fall crop of kale and turnips. Finally, the garden is showing signs of richness: the potatoes are flowering, the corn is shoulder-high, and my beautiful bean plants are covered with long purple string beans. These are by far the loveliest bean plants I've ever grown: not only are the beans themselves a deep purple, but the flowers are lavender and the green leaves are veined with purple.

I've been reading Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, and thinking about how similar the central character Catherine is to Elizabeth Bowen's Portia in The Death of the Heart. Both girls are questioning innocents dropped into the world of adult machination. But Catherine is lucky enough to find friends who guide her through these confusions, whereas Portia drowns in a sea of double-entendre and spite.

An acquaintance posed a Facebook question yesterday: "How soon do you show your drafts to other readers?" Almost everyone who answered declared that they shared work very soon after beginning it. I was the only person who said that I rarely showed any poems to anyone until they had reached submission or publication stage. With essays I can be more forthcoming, but on the whole I feel very uneasy about sharing poetry in its infantile stage. And I was surprised, even a bit shocked, at how free and easy all these other writers are about showing their stuff to other people. I can name a handful of people who have ever seen my recent poems in embryo, and my family members are not any of those readers. (I am not counting poetry workshops, where one is required to bring along unfinished work. This may account for why I have taken relatively few poetry workshops.) Why would I burden my loved ones with such trouble? And infant art is trouble: unformed, awkward, ugly, self-satisfied, noisy. Better to let it grow up with me before I let it out into the world.

Of course this is a highly personal reaction. When I was studying with Baron (and he has seen more of my student work than anyone else has), I found the process tremendously painful. I trusted him and I wanted his help, but I also hated publicizing my struggles. As I've become a more self-confident reviser, I've also become far cagier about sharing first drafts. I wonder how other poets feel about this. So many people seem to thrive on the writing-group model. Does this imply that I am an anomaly?


Carlene said...

I've often wondered about when it's okay to let a poem take a few toddler steps. I have piles of unfinished/abandoned bits and pieces, and I wrestle with the whole "would these benefit/get jumpstarted if someone else looked at them" versus "if I ignore them long enough, maybe I'll get some insight" conundrum. Oddly enough, I still don't have an answer. =)

Dawn Potter said...

I think the answer is not only individual to the writer but also changeable over time. I really needed Baron to read my early work, much as I cried when he did read it. Now, I don't need him to read my work any more. He's a great teacher, as you know, and he taught himself out of a job, as great teachers do. Still, I know that many of his former students thrive on writing groups et al., and I just don't. So as far as you are concerned, Carlene, I guess I'd ask, "What do I need NOW? Do I need a reader to help me keep working and developing? Or do I need privacy so that I can keep plumbing these necessary depths?" Sometimes revision comes later, after you've found a way to step over the cliff.

Ruth said...

I am wondering if it also has anything to do with our comfort levels with people. There are those who ooh and ah over bitty babies and those who prefer older children or teens or the newly adults or any other age group. Perhaps that is why some want to share even the tiniest beginnings and some want to wait for the adult stage.
I don't want to share until I've done lots of scribbling and rewriting and even then the people with whom I share need to be trusted people. I do not thrive in the "rip it apart" atmosphere. Encouragement to take the next step and deal with the cliff ( even to realize that there is a cliff) is helpful to me. Then I can revise with some possible directions.
This is a good discussion; however, there is not one answer.

Sheila said...

Isn't it good to be an anomaly, especially in creative endeavors? I think how writers work and how/when they solicit feedback may depend on whether they are introverts or extroverts, and for some on how much they need other's approval. Many extroverts truly thrive on working with others and need the interaction. As an introvert, I have the opposite reaction. I suspect you are an introvert too, although I don't know for sure. I wait at least a few months before sharing work with two trusted readers, for me work needs to sit and then undergo a rigorous edit before I share with anyone. However you're working Dawn, it obviously works. I wonder if you had the sense that you are an anomaly because the more extroverted, group-oriented writers are more likely to be very keyed into social media, and checking in on FB more frequently. I don't intend to imply that their way of working is better or worse, although I find people who are obviously seeking approval and praise annoying.

Dawn Potter said...

I'm definitely an introvert and, yes, the social media chatterers may not be. I also noticed that most of the quick sharers were fiction writers, both YA and adult. Maybe that's just a coincidence, but maybe not.