revisions

I seem to have taken to only posting before poetry shows now, since I know that organizers and event pages will be linking to my blog. I haven’t been writing a ton recently, but I do have a few poems up at well-adjusted queer kids. Also, you can see Syd’s comics, which are excellent.

Speaking of Syd, they also linked me to this article about blaming the revision process on Modernists, which I just skimmed. It is actually helping with my pre-show nerves. (As I’ve mentioned, thinking about performing makes me freak out.)

I’ve been meaning to write a post about metadata and poetry (i.e. that tagging poetry on social media allows poets to create an additional layer of meaning, relating that to poets who translate their own texts, but also all writing is a translation of personal experience, and also all reading is filtered through subjective experience, can you see how this would be a long blog post and also how this parenthetical kind of works like a tag?), but I haven’t gotten around to it yet.

In the interim, here’s an excerpt from the article by Craig Fehrman:

What first got Sullivan thinking about revision was encountering a version of Ernest Hemingway she’d never seen before. While a first-year PhD student at Harvard, Sullivan visited the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and its Hemingway collection. She marveled at the famous author’s archive—his letters, his family scrapbooks, even his bullfighting materials. But one thing in particular stood out to her: the typescript of his novel “The Sun Also Rises.” It showed Hemingway changing his book dramatically from one version to the next. Monologues vanished, entire plot points disappeared, and, in the end, he arrived at the terse, mysterious novel that became part of the American literary canon. “The Hemingway style that’s so familiar to us wasn’t in the first draft,” Sullivan says. “It was a product of revision.”

Hemingway’s method reminded Sullivan of the way T.S. Eliot had trimmed down “The Waste Land” from pages and pages of manuscript to the final, elliptical 434-line poem. She realized that these authors shared a profound commitment to the power of revision, and that this commitment was itself worth studying. While plenty of literary scholars had examined the way individual authors edited their own works, they rarely compared their findings between authors, or from one period to the next. By making these comparisons, Sullivan identified the Modernists as the first to practice our contemporary form of revision. She also learned how revision contributed to their distinct literary technique. “We often assume that style comes out of nowhere,” she says. “But style is produced in revision, and revision is not something writers do naturally.”

tl;dr: Revision is unnatural to writers, but it’s how they produce style.

How this relates: I’ve been revising the piece “23” (read: thinking about this poem and wanting to change it) for quite some time, and I finally cut a bunch out and am going to read a much shorter poem tonight. It still doesn’t feel done, but art is a process.

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From what perspectives do you approach your art??????????

The title of this blog post is a real-life excerpt from an e-mail I just received from Cara (whose chapbook, as I have mentioned, you should purchase). Does anyone have an answer I can borrow?

If there had only been, like, eight question marks, I would have tried to get away with an answer like “from my perspective,” but the 10th one really just demands that I try a little harder. I’m featuring at Common Ground on Thursday, which is all kinds of exciting. Except that I’m also a little anxious, and I thought the theme was going to be “growth,” not “perspectives.” Now I am all discombobulated and trying to figure out what my perspectives are.

Clearly, I am at an articulation peak and will have no trouble speaking in front of people. I’ve been working on edits for my chapbook, after having given myself the arbitrary deadline of June 30 a few weeks ago. Three times in the last week, I did this weird thing where I let other people read my work, which was nerve-wracking and vulnerability-causing, which I suppose could seem surprising, since I’m blogging about feeling vulnerable right now, as if I have absolutely no filters or sense of shame. But hey, I am just a mass of contradictions and feelings.

Making things more awkward and squishy, the chapbook has now become exclusively love poems, since there are so few poems about other things that they awkwardly stood out. (Thanks to Cara for reading the unedited collection of everything, and lending her perspective,* helping me to finish breaking me out of the not-editing slump of the last 10 or so months.)

Wow, this post has, like, no connecting narrative thread. I just wanted to say that I’m excited to be writing more, and even though I feel strange and vulnerable about letting people see all of my poems (and my one secret short story) as a collection, I have also felt completely energized over the past week, and more motivated to write than I have in … maybe the past decade. I’m learning how to get over the fear of being judged, and also learning how to push past wanting first drafts to work immediately. I think I actually prefer editing to writing, so having something to go back and tinker with is immensely rewarding, but it requires putting things down on paper (or in digital 0s and 1s).

Umm, artists. It’s nice to be around them. Also, incidentally, I think the universe is teaching me a lesson in dramatic irony. I bartered with a co-worker, that I would write her artist bio if she would let me take on a book-binding apprenticeship. We did a whole interview, and then I spent good chunks of the rest of the day narrating everything around me in her artist’s perspective. And then I went and checked my e-mail and discovered that I owe Common Ground a bio, too. And then I realized that describing your perspective on art is hard.**

* See, brought it back to the theme!

* Writing someone else’s bio, however, is fun! And my co-worker likes the one I wrote for her, even though I printed it out in Comic Sans, with her name in orange and blue Word Art at the top. I am kind of a jerk sometimes.

The best books I never read, cont.*

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I feel like I should apologize for blogging relatively infrequently of late, but I don’t have a strong sense of whether people are checking for updates or are just following links from Facebook and Google+. I’ve been working on a short story and just did a book review of Tim O’Briens The Things They Carried for … Continue reading

The best books I never read

“… strong texts tend to become so familiar, even to people who have never read them, that they become part of what exists, at least a distort of them does. It is very strange to read something supposedly familiar, The Gospels, Great Expectations, Jane Eyre, and to find that it is quite unlike our mental version of it. Without exception, the original will be as unsettling, as edgy as it ever was, we have learned a little and sentimentalized the rest.”

— Jeanette Winterson, “Writer, Reader, Words” in Art Objects

On Saturday night, my friend Lorena and I started discussing books we haven’t read, and I was reminded of this quote (which I had recently rediscovered while flipping through old journals — I copied the entire passage I linked to above by hand). Specifically, Lorena was worried about reading Brave New World, because she was worried it wouldn’t live up to her expectations. Still, she had a sense of what the book was about, which was what reminded me of Winterson’s argument that familiar books become part of what exists — and as I was describing it, I mentioned the idea of works seeming less edgy once they become part of societal context instead of challenging or upending it, which, actually, is not what Winterson said, so when I reread the quote while typing, it was all meta and performative and mind-blowing.

As I mentioned before, and will blog about more in-depth … sometime, I just finished reading “The Most Human Human,” which I’d been meaning to check out since Brian Christian did an interview about it on “The Daily Show,” which aired on March 8. Before I read the book, the idea of the Turing test was rolling around in my brain for months, especially in relation to research/philosophizing I was doing about social media in relation to job applications.

I think the concept of not being able to unknow things is incredibly fascinating (in the same way that I think the concept of wanting to go back and change the past is bizarre, since every random moment in the past influences the present moment, and it’s impossible to know what else would be different).** Think about all of the books you haven’t read that you still consider familiar,*** or the pleasant shock of discovering that a text you thought was familiar was unsettling. As I was applying for master’s programs in comparative literature about two years ago, I had a long conversation with an assistant vice provost from UCLA about my romanticization of literate culture in England; I love the idea of culture being steeped in texts (and served with crumpets), as when I went to breakfast at my mom’s cousins place in Felixtowe, and a first edition of Great Expectations was just chilling next to the toast rack and very cheddary scrambled eggs.

That may also be why I love books about books and writers who write for readers, like Jasper Fforde and his Thursday Next series, which I think are enjoyable whether or not the reader is extremely well-read, but truly understanding and catching all the references requires a fairly deep knowledge of literature.****

I think another way to interpret my headline, “The best books I never read,” though, is to think about some of the classics I read in elementary and middle school when I was largely reading for plot. I think if I went back and reread them, I would experience that same unsettling feeling to find that old-school writers really just were that edgy with their quill pen and inkwell badassery.

* Coincidentally, I was disappointed by the second half of that book, because I’d read the beginning when my older cousin brought it with her on vacation, but I didn’t finish it before she left. I never got around to checking it out of a library, so I didn’t read the second half of the book until my sophomore year of high school. During the intervening three years, the ideas of human engineering to maintain societal castes rolled around in my mind (and “The Matrix” came out, etc.), and I was really excited to finish the book, but didn’t really enjoy it as much as I had expected to.^

^ I now have no way of knowing whether I would have enjoyed the ending more had I not had such high expectations, or whether I would still have been disappointed and that would have tinged my view of the opening.

** Tangential thought: I love re-reading books, and am firmly in the “you can’t reread a book” camp, since you bring your context and environment and mood with you with each “re-reading.” I read Maniac Magee about once a year after first reading it in elementary school, and at some point in late high school or college, I teared up at Grayson’s death, the first time I cried while reading that book.

*** For example, earlier in the evening during which I had that conversation with Lorena, someone asked us to name the book and author from whence the quote “The only people for me are the mad ones.” I guessed “a beat poet,” then Kerouac, then On the Road. (I’ll get around to reading it soon, I’m sure.)

**** Incidentally, I love that Lemony Snicket makes similar references in A Series of Unfortunate Events (cf. Sunny Baudelaire’s “gibberish,” e.g. throwing around Latin roots or calling Count Olaf’s ambiguously gendered henchperson “Orlando”).