Thursday, December 18, 2008

Work in Progress: Distracted Holiday Edition

I’m winding things up here, getting ready for the loooong drive back to the heartland. Driving takes forever, but at least no one charges us for excessive luggage or makes us remove our “suspicious” shoes; no seatbacks whacking our knees and faces. Plus, I believe that driving in this case is greener than flying? In any event, nothing could entice me to fight the “festive” hordes at the airport. So I won’t be posting for at least a week, possibly longer—possibly not until next year! Hope you have a lovely holiday season, safe travels, and a happy 2009!


I’ll leave you with some odds and ends:

It was announced that poet Elizabeth Alexander will be reading a poem at the inauguration. Of course, that means she’ll have to write it first…can you imagine the pressure? This is a hard time of year to focus on writing, and suddenly you’re required to come up with something brilliant, accessible, and perfect that will make people cry….or at least not make other writers cringe in embarrassment.

I read about the announcement here in the Washington Post, and here’s Elizabeth Alexander’s web site. (On her events link, for January 20, she modestly notes: “Barack Obama’s inagural poet, Washington, D.C.”)

And scroll to the bottom of my post to read a poem that the Washington Post ran (with, I might add, totally messed up linebreaks…ugh) . I very much like the poem, so I’m hopeful that she’ll rise to the occasion. In any event, it’s always nice to see a writer placed in a place of prominence….as it should be every day! (You can read more of Alexander’s work here.)

This isn’t equal to the pressure of writing a perfect poem for a true moment of history like the inauguration of the nation’s first bi-racial president, but I’ve had my own week of modest pressure as I tried to complete a rough draft of a chapter for my new novel before hitting the road.

I tend to think that I don’t write well under pressure, but actually I’m beginning to realize that I do: it seems that often when there’s some sort of artificial deadline (usually leaving on a trip), I come up with great ideas, and the words flow. I started this chapter with only an idea of where the first scene would take place, and a short conversation that would happen there…and two weeks later I’ve got 27 (very, very rough) pages of intense conflict and character development…as well as a killer cliff-hanger ending. All because I’m going out of town. Maybe I should travel more?

Please don’t think I’m vain and overly impressed with myself from the above paragraphs. They were written in the magical time between finishing the rough draft and before reading it over again. Obviously when I reread it, I’ll realize it totally sucks. But for now, I’ll linger in the false sense of serenity and confidence for as long as it lasts.

Here’s a Jerry Seinfeld-esque observation about myself: Ever notice how all I do is complain about how I’m bad at coming up with titles, and yet in every novel I write, I decide to title EVERY CHAPTER? What’s up with that?

In a totally distracted shift of subject, do check out the new issue of Poets & Writers magazine. Great roundtable discussion with some young agents, an interesting exploration of “why we write,” and some advice for what’s going on when we can’t write. (The magazine is so hot off the presses that articles and excerpts from the new issue aren’t yet online.) If you don’t subscribe, you should.

Ending with a moment of glory, Elizabeth Alexander’s very moving poem, “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe”:

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are our ourselves,
(though Sterling Brown said

“Every ‘I’ is a dramatic ‘I’”)
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the corner,

overhear on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I’m sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

From American Sublime, published by Graywolf Press. (Watch the amazon numbers move on this book!)


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.