Friday, January 7, 2011

Humble Pie

When I'm between books, I almost always write poetry. I write it during books, too, but it isn't the same thing. Poetry doesn't always like playing second fiddle. Poetry can be, as Billy Collins said in another context, "a cruel and savagely attired mistress."

So I was being faithful (in my fashion) recently and writing verse-in-forms. First the villanelle. Holy $*@!. Two lousy rhymes -- one of them 13 times and the other one 6. And two entire lines are repeated four times. Whose freaking idea was this? I ask you, whose?

Mine, obviously. And, God help me, it's fun to sit down and work with such a -in this case - nagging, repetitive and also meditative form. I also found a good subject, one that would clash with the form: a strip club. Also called euphemistically a Gentlemen's Club because really we're all a bunch of barons and viscounts in there.

And I worked it out -- the rhymes, the repetition, everything. It was correct but not very good. Predictable and stiff. So I chatted with a friend of mine, took her advice and tried again. Different POV (in the soul-sense of those daunting initials), different rhymes, different key lines. Really much better. Who knew!

Then I boldly turned to couplets. I used Thom Gunn's "The J Car" as my model. What a beautiful poem it is. Effortless and very, very touching. Mine was neither effortless nor touching. It was stiff and clunky and risible. Frankenstein doing the polka. And yet it had one very nice couplet out of probably twenty.

I'm afraid writing poetry is like mining. Lots of times nothing buy gravel and sand. But every now and then, flakes of gold.

P.S. I'm not at the residency so I'll write a little more often. My friends there have enough to do. (Though as I remember there was plenty of on-site blogging last year.)

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