Sweating The Small Stuff
I have spent the past three weeks working on poetry I’m submitting to a chapbook competition. The deadline is still months away, so time really isn’t an issue. This is the first time in years I have tried to write a series of poems centered around a common theme. I am surprised at what is being written, and shocked at how difficult it has been.
I’ve been writing poetry (good and bad) for close to 30 years. I’ve honed my craft and cultivated my voice, but I do not believe I have ever worked as hard on a group of poems as I have on these. The effort is paying off and I feel very confident in my ability to complete something worthwhile, something that might be prize winning.
Unlike writing fiction, where I feel the *write, then edit* approach is most fruitful, poetry demands complete focus during the composing process. Each word, each line is fighting for its right to survive. I am harsh in my edits, quick to delete rather than add. One five stanza poem took four hours to compose, which felt like an eternity. I stared at the screen, pondering what had been written, what was yet to arrive. Several times, I stood and walked around the room, letting the images and phrases dance in my head. I played with different forms, odd line breaks, remembering that form is the vehicle, not the destination. It was frustrating and exhausting at times, but I am elated at what has emerged.
I have to remember to never underestimate the importance of the small things, the details that make a composition a success or failure. It is far too easy to overwrite, add one too many lines, dabble in hyperbole and absolutes. I have learned to trust my instincts.
Onward, always onward.