S.O.S. week 5 update: ebb and flow

A painter and his subject at high tide, Morro Bay. Public domain from wikimedia.

Welcome back to the Summer of Submissions. This week I gave over to the ebb and flow of the creative life. I didn’t meet my goal of three submissions, although I did complete one submission and began work on two more. But I did end up with three new and unexpected drafts.

I haven’t been drafting regularly this summer, having seen the writing on the wall and focusing my energy on submissions. This was a hard decision to make. Whenever I’m not drafting intentionally, I begin to fear the faucet will turn off never to open again. Silly superstition, but still… .

The creative life has its ebbs and flows. Sometimes we’re in a high tide of new work; other times, there’s less new work and more revision, organizing, or whatever needs the most attention at the time. I’ve learned to respect the tides of creation. If new drafts are coming, I let them come. Last week, that meant not as much time spent on submissions. But I won’t mark it as a failure, just an adjustment.

And now, off in another direction. If you’re anything like me, you don’t always listen to audio clips that people send your way :). I was so glad I listened to the Mark Doty clip. But for those of you who haven’t yet, here’s the text of what he said (I tried to be as accurate as possible; forgive any errors):

The question was if I always trusted my voice as a poet and if not what do you recommend or what works for me. I think that, uh, self-doubt is one’s ally ultimately. You need it. The problem is, of course, that most of us have too much of it. And the project then becomes how to make use of it, how to harness it. So, I have always doubted my voice. I have always doubted the capacity of the poems to hold enough of experience to do what I want them to do. And I try to find —  actually I don’t try —  I find as I’m working what I’d refer to as an operational faith: I believe just enough to be able to write this now. And later I can allow all that doubt to come back and lean against it and some of that doubt gets really useful in pushing the poem, in, uh, sharpening language, in trying to get rid of what’s unnecessary. And then when the poem is finished, published, the doubt is still there (laughter). Saying other things, right? But so far, not enough to shut me up.

The other piece of my answer that has to do with this question of voice, um, I think you probably already have one. Ah, it’s not something you go and find. But it’s an extension of character, perceptual style, the way you speak, the way your body moves — all that comes into it. You can hear as I’m talking I’m speaking in long sentences, right? I qualify myself, I add more phrases. And that’s a characteristic of the voice in my poems as well. So, I think it’s there. We have to get better at being ourselves on the page and to what degree we can learn to trust, to allow the range of ourselves into our poems. I thought initially I had to be quite solemn, uh, and, uh, earnest, and that if I did that I was to prove and demonstrate something about myself: that I might be worth taking seriously. And, ah,  as time has gone on I’ve allowed myself to joke a little, to, uh, allow some anger into the work, uh, perhaps some less attractive aspects of my own character, you know, because, you know, we all want to be liked at least, and you want the reader to at least think you’re a decent person. And one needs to simply open up the range of what you can admit to the poem.

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