About three years ago, I attended the National Conference on Undergraduate Research, where I presented on the concept of using revision as an integral part of the creative process. I have come to view revision–my opinion has been revised–as even a primary source of creativity.
Over the past year, in particular, as I was working through the thesis project, revision was a primary mode of work. In one way, I felt a hole in that I was not creating any new poems. This however, was not really the case. Reflecting now, several months after the defense, I can see that both the work as a whole, and the individual poems, are substantially different. Of the initial chapbook-length collection I began the process with, only a few poems remain in the bound thesis, and most of those amount to completely different poems.
The revision process had, in other words, become the primary creative mode.
I wonder, and you may be wondering, the why and how of revision functioning as a primary creativity mode. I have three ideas about this:
My family, previous girlfriends, and my wife will tell you I am not very good at communicating. This is true. I spend more time thinking through what I will say than I do saying it. This has the added quality that once I have thought something through, I express myself as economically as possible. My vocalizations usually come in the form of “Yes,” “No,” or “I don’t know,” leaving little for a conversation partner to grasp upon. So I have found that writing is both a way to think through things, but also a better way for me to communicate. There is something about the physicality of writing—whether by keyboard or by pen and paper—which allows a better expression for me than what seems to be an ephemeral act of speaking. Emotions, thoughts, reasoning become more readily accessible. Continue reading →
Because my other obsessions involve more math than I have practical ability with, I found that writing offers a way to involve myself in those obsessions. From astrophysics to particle physics to chemistry, biology, or engineering, and for as long as I can remember, I have pursued interests which fascinate me. Unfortunately, I also never put the effort into my math classes that I did into my English classes. Once I took a creative writing class in high school, and through the benefit of an excellent teacher, I was hooked. But it was still a while before I found there was a way to combine the two obsessions. Writing and science don’t seem to always go together outside dry textbooks or more interesting, yet still technical, books like Brian Greene’s or Stephen Hawking’s. Reading magazines like Science and Nature—and even National Geographic—in the libraries throughout elementary school grounded in me a love for the fantastic progress and understanding humanity is making in our age. Storytelling around the dinner table and for classes in school grounded in me a love for words. Continue reading →
This is not a very good explanation. It strikes a true chord. I am/We are continually exiting Plato’s cave into the light. Better still, we have the capability to shine light inside that cave. I have a capability to shine a light. A little light, and a small corner of the cave, but so what? While I might have been raised in the evangelical sense of the children’s song, there is—and always has been—a greater sense of humanity, a greater sense of the cave. Sometimes there is a sense of being overwhelmed—such a little light, such an awesome cave. As Impossible Mike puts it, “an excessive pointlessness beyond terror and despair.” You are being too generous.
I write because I know there is no success in my genre. The challenges I face—the darknesses I dare—are the ones I determine to confront. Am I blind to those I choose not to? Yes. And no. Self-doubt creeps in at those blind spots. So, again, why should I choose to write, to expose myself to the self-doubt, the known shortcomings, the fears and loathings? Is it pointless to place new little lights into the world?
The Creative Writing program at ODU brings in a visiting writer each semester. This semester it’s Dorianne Laux (who you should definitely read, if you haven’t), and on Thusday she gave her craft lecture titled “The Marriage of Music and Meaning”.
This of course made me go back to my thesis and wonder whether I’m spending too much time in my head dealing with conceptualisms instead of the very real task of making music. Of course, the last poem that got published was written more in attention to sound than anything else: “god, you choke old stones down” has a great music (to me, at least).
While I haven’t been posting here (or at Poetic Idealism) lately, that’s not to say things haven’t been very busy.
One thing I’m very proud of is the state of the new issue of Barely South Review, which has taken up most of my time these past two weeks. It’s turned out beautifully, with no small thanks to the contributors who sent us wonderful materials to work with, and the staff who put in many long hours.
On the other hand, this workload also means my thesis has taken somewhat of a back seat recently. I’ve written a couple of new things, but still feel about fifteen poems short. These are in me somewhere, and now I have time to go mining for them.