Thank you so much for your generous praise and comments. I recently read a post here on medium that attacked people for saying they were “humbled” by praise, claiming that such a statement was a mask for arrogance. Well in my case, I am truly humbled when people find my work worthy of praise. When a poem I have written connects with someone on a powerful or deep level, I feel as though I have in some way been admitted to that person’s inner self. Such an interaction should be humbling to the author or creator. But I digress.
You bring up a lot of stuff, so I’m going to try my best to get to it all. First I want to give a shout out to K.E. for coming up with this publication as a platform for work-shopping poetry. What a great idea! Thank you for doing it!
I’ve been surprised and encouraged to discover how much poetry communicates of itself. To take my poem as an example both comments (yours and one from Amy Echstenkamper) have been spot on in addressing some of the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the poem, which tells me that poetry is not as obscure a form of communication as people might think. Even the fault lines, if you will, of a poem reveal themselves.
Your comment that the last two stanzas could stand alone as their own entity caused me to giggle (if a little sourly) because one version of this poem had done just that. Let me back up. When I did the exercise, I found myself discovering a poem I had needed to write about my son for another publication. So I wrote it and then returned to this one, writing a draft of it that was more or less as it stands now. But when I returned to it later I was dissatisfied. It felt disconnected, jumbled. So I spent a day wrestling with it trying to get from it what I thought it should be. I put in a long rambling parenthetical about the Sacramento valley (where I live). I tried this. I tired that. I tried cutting all that crap out and leaving the last two stanzas. But nothing seemed to find the shape I was looking for. I ended up thinking: this isn’t a poem. This is a petulant child. This is a spoiled brat. It wants things its own way and it throws its toys at me every time I try to change it.
So I did what any reasonable parent does when a child has a temper tantrum. I ignored it. I came back to it later and admitted defeat, leaving it more or less the way I had originally written it (at least in terms of structure). The only alterations that survived were to the last section. If there’s a frame to this poem it is simply the phrase “I am from.” With that repeated every stanza I wanted to do something that Bob Dylan often does with his songs. He focuses on a repeated phrase or, in some cases, a specific person, and then in the last stanza or two he breaks away, often without warning. Dumps the phrase. Leaves the person behind. And just when you think he’s nuts, he circles back in the last line or word and ties it together.
I am in no way claiming I achieved this. But the driver is simply a device to turn away from the recurring phrase. If there is any kind of wrap up it is in the word “decline.” A state of symbolic or literal decline seems present in all the stanzas. For me at least. So that’s what’s going on with the driver. He showed up when I was trying to develop this turn-and-return thing and, as I say, he was one of the only later alterations that the petulant child seemed to tolerate.
To a certain extent, I believe in artistic voodoo. What I mean is that a discerning and faithful artist, whatever his medium, will leave room in his or her process for accident, intuition, and the unreasonable — the thing that simply doesn’t make sense. Here’s my dilemma, and this is my return question for you:
When does voodoo become an excuse for sloppy writing? Or frame it the other way. When does revision suck the life out of a poem?
I don’t know if there is a solid way to answer this, and I’m inclined to think that every artist has to discern this for his or herself. All the same, I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Thanks so much again for your comments Patrick. I hope this finds you well. God bless you.