Evolution of the Poem: at the barre …

pia04937orig1Recently, I was combing through old poetry, and ran across an early draft of my scifaiku poem “at the barre …”, complete with a list of markets that had rejected it.

Now, I love the completed version of this poem, which reads:

at the barre
the graceful arms
of a spiral galaxy

— first appeared in Rattle‘s Issue 49, Fall 2015, Tribute to Scientists

And I was excited when this scifaiku won an award, placing second in the 2016 Dwarf Stars Award given by the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

But the poem didn’t start out that way. In fact, the early versions were downright terrible.

My inspiration for this poem came from my daughter, who was taking dance class at the time. One of the ballet positions – fourth, if I’m remembering correctly – had one arm curved over her head and the other curled around her front. She reminded me of a spiral galaxy.

So, I began to research spiral galaxies, and discovered that their arm positions determine whether they are classified as spiral galaxies or barred spiral galaxies. The shape that reminded me most of my daughter was barred – an SBc.

I thought this was a nifty comparison, and conjured a row of little galaxies standing in front of a ballet barre. Such a lovely image should be easy to put into words, no?

This is an early draft of my poem (yes, I actually sent this out):

spiral galaxies —
intergalactic dance troupe
in “b” position

Um, yeah. It’s my poem, and it doesn’t even make sense to me.

But I knew I liked the concept, so I hung in there and kept editing. Barre was a lovely word to use because it both evoked the ballet and gave a nod to barred spiral galaxies. Once I put that word in there, I could take out the line about “b” position (the “b” stood for barred anyway), and I didn’t need to use the word dance. Elimating that clunky verbiage allowed the poem to flow from there.

So, please, my poet friends, hang on to your poems that speak to you, even if they start out rough. Haiku or scifaiku, in particular, can be deceptively tricky to write. Some short poems practically write themselves, but not this one. “At the barre …” needed distance, perspective, and research to come together.

Photo credit: That’s spiral galaxy Messier 81 above, as imaged by NASA/JPL/Caltech/University of Arizona/Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/NOAO/AURA/NSF.

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Writing in the Desert

I don’t know how it is for you on your writing journey, but I have blank periods of time where words elude me. I don’t mean that my writing is trite or banal; I mean, the words don’t come at all. It’s like they’ve migrated to a tropical climate and left me in the throes of a dull, gray winter.

I’ve tried a few techniques for getting away from writer’s block. What seems to work best for me is switching my focus from one type of writing to the next. When poetry evades me, I write creative nonfiction. If fiction is challenging, I try magazine articles. Generally, this has served me well. 

However, last summer I got burned out on creative writing in general. You can see that reflected in this blog – I quit writing much of anything. Largely, this had to do with my disillusionment with the poetry community. It seemed like every time I turned around, there were accusations – some well-founded – of sexism, racism, and cultural appropriation. As a community, these discussions are vital. They serve to further understanding among groups if we actually take the time to listen to each other. But as an individual poet, I found it disenheartening that there was such an undercurrent of exclusion and unhappiness in my happy place. I like to believe that poetry is this magical, mystical playground where we all explore words together and seek a greater awareness of life. Sadly, this is quite an idealistic view.

Disillusioned, I quit writing. And then the words packed up their baggage and left, leaving me feeling even emptier than before. I’ve spent the past six months crafting instead. It’s not the same. I still yearn to write.

Many years ago, I belonged to a small community of faith. We were a little group that met weekly to encourage one another on our journey with God. One of our members referred to these times of existential crisis as the desert portion of our journey. Believing in God is easy when we are happy and things are going well. But our faith is challenged during times of pain or struggle.

I see a similar parallel with writing. Every time I lose touch with my ability to write, I feel a desperate panic. And I am always greatly relieved and comforted when the words return.

How do you handle the desert days of your writing life? Do you write your way through them, trusting that if you prime the pump, the words will come? Or do you turn to other creative endeavors to get you through the bleak times?

Acceptance

I received the most wonderful email a few days ago. It was an acceptance letter for an unusual flash fiction short story that I wrote. I wanted to share this here because, as a writer, I think it’s so important that we relish our successes. It’s vital that we have something to sustain us during the long, painful drought of rejections. I love acceptance letters even more than seeing my pieces in print. It made my day. I even got paid!

For this piece, I saw the call for submissions, thought the concept would be a fun challenge, and whipped up something. I have no idea where I would have tried to market the piece had it not sold there. I wish I could share it with you now, but it’s in the publisher’s queue for November 2014.

Publication is a process. I can look back now and see the long road that I have travelled from emerging to published poet. Sometimes, I get frustrated that I can’t just jump from established poet directly to established short story writer. I may be in the middle of my journey as a poet, but I’m just unfolding the road map for writing fiction.

But today I celebrate my fiction writing success. I have found the road! 🙂

jublke's Heart-Shaped Flower Wreath

Self-Doubt

I didn’t win.

Recently, I entered a popular humor writing contest. I read the rules multiple times; I made sure that my entry conformed exactly to the guidelines; I was certain that I had captured what the judges were looking for. I was wrong.

My take-away message? I’m a loser and I’m not remotely funny. I even have the contest results to prove it!

Okay, I know that I’m over-reacting, but rejection still stings. When I first started out as a writer, I experienced this feeling of displacement a lot. Every returned manuscript, every rejected pitch, every contest loss, made me doubt what I was doing and wonder if I should throw in the towel.

Experience has taught me that there’s a niche out there for each type of writer; the goal is to keep plugging away and trying new things until you find your place.

I’ve had some success as a poet, but I went through ages of self-doubt before I hit my stride. For years, I tried to write long narrative poems because I thought that was what journal editors wanted. And maybe they do. I’ve never been comfortable writing longer poetry though. I don’t even like reading it. Give me something over ten lines and I want to edit it down into three.

Discovering a vibrant short form poetry community on Twitter was a godsend. I’ve learned to let go of my poems and stop worrying so much about publishing them. Enjoying the process of writing has primed my mental pump.

But it still hurts to lose. Expanding my writing into a new genre has opened up a whole new avenue of self-doubt.

So, I’m going to spend today wallowing in self-pity and chocolate. But tomorrow, I’m going to dust myself off, hold the line, and continue writing. I trust that eventually I will find my place.

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