Sharpening The Pencil

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I’m not tired of fiction writing, by any means. But I do tend toward predictability if not occasional outright laziness in my writing, and that’s why I’m spending time editing a 20+ year-old piece of poetry. Now, I don’t pretend to be a poet, nor do I fully understand contemporary  poetry. And that’s why this perhaps overlong piece looks and sounds like 1930s verse. But its use to me is to sharpen the macro view of what I’m trying to say here – and to make every word count.

I recently submitted a rather old novel manuscript to an indie editor for advice on how to sharpen the story – if indeed it needed such. According to AB, my editor, it needed a complete redo. And here’s where I both encourage and and caution writers in following in my footsteps. I learned years ago that editors won’t spend the time with a manuscript that you the writer will; consequently, they likely will not see the story as you do. But such editorial looks will allow you to see how your story seems to interested readers.

In my case, the editor was frustrated with the supposed genre and what exactly the story is about. The manuscript was intended to be about two old friends reencountering one another after some thirty years’ absence. And as often happens, the old friendship still has heft, but it also has difficulties in the extreme. And I wanted to use a geophysical phenomenon as a metaphor for the friendship, which makes the story more literary than commercial genre. And so, after a cordial Skype meet-up with AB, I decided to rewrite to make the story center more on the two main characters than on my supposed plot. Take about killing off some of your best stuff!

But back to the poem.

When writing short or long fiction you can sometimes get away with the occasional bad writing and a de-emphasis on cohesive story. Poetry, however, will tolerate neither. Poetry does have its freedoms, to be sure, but the more you exercise those freedoms the sharper the piece’s language has to be, the more crystal clear the overall effect of the poem demands to be.

So I’m struggling through this in order to sharpen my prosaic pencil. But i’m not being so mercenary as to consider this poem to be the literary equivalent of slave labor. After all, I do like to write poetry, too. Just to give you an idea of what I’ve been doing, here’s a sample of the poem’s beginning, intended to be modern and metaphysical. DIVISIONS is the first section of three parts, and this is how that section begins.

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Divisions

Morning sun, warm on my back,

your breath smells of salt.

Is it your smile

that thrills me so,

or the raucous tune I hear

bouncing over the ocean?

Please! Let your lyric wash

Over me like a new reality.

 

But a question darkens the thought –
What need do I have of a new reality?

Perhaps there’s need enough

in this early morning chill

to root me in this world forever.

I dare not rise above the water’s

surface, shivering, blind with hunger,

And beg for what’s already mine.

 

 

Have you seen beyond

The clouded window? Cold rain

Begins to slant over distant waters.

Can you recall The One?

 

Mighty sea, mother eternity,

I once rose above you, and

dark forces spirited me away

to a shining city, streets

paved with the salt

of imperious science.

It was there I lost myself

in idleness and poverty.

 

Do you abide such lassitude?

Only under the spell of

asymmetrical moments.

Infinite sea, your limits

taste the world at every turn.

For the sake of my illumination,

why does my awe of you

seem so much like fear?

 

 

Walking barefoot through

this place of dual worlds

is difficult        better still

to touch the face of The One.

 

 

I’ve abandoned friends for this,

my surrender to your waves.

I baptize myself then dive

to calmer water where

something of the past

endures, then I bolt upward,

tumbling and rolling with salt

on my tongue and sand in my suit.

 

Is it really possible to be born

anew in each moment

in these self-same bodies,

wave after wave,

resisting the undertow

water dripping from my nose?

I fear I’m a silly knave destined

To learn the same lessons over and over.

 

 

 

What do you know of the sun,

the solar orb of Helios?

does his solitude

encompass The One?

 

 

Noon, and I walk the crystal

sands and watch the crabs dance,

living their measure of life.

Here at the edge,

the moveable frontier,

neither sea nor sand exist.

Here, new elemental forces

are bent on being born.

 

Dare I speak of what is real

in such a place?   Perhaps not.

Hang reality, I ask for silence.

But a fertile mind knows

no silence. It’s an ocean

of thought, torrents of it,

spreading its fantasies across

a universe of time and space.

 

 

The day quickens.

Do you hear the echoing gulls?

A cloud of hearts

Beating within The One.

 

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