Thursday, 1 March 2007

Poetry Woes

I think I've invented a new kind of writer's block. It's not that I can't write anything, just that I can't write anything good. I feel I've reached a sort of end-of-the-road situation. I got better and better through my teens, and at sixteen I made a great final leap, wrote Novenary, the only half-decent thing I've ever written, and stopped dead. I'm beginning to fear, now, that my writing poetry is going to turn out like my learning Latin: I get to a certain level very quickly, but then I'm stuck there. In which case, a huge chunk of what I'm basing my identity and my future plans on is out the window, and I'm lost. Oh, angst.

I've all but given up on workshopping at PFFA now. It doesn't work for me. I write something, get it the best I can make it, post it and get lots of really sound, useful critique, which I then can't seem to make use of. Partly because people say different things and then I don't know who to go with. Partly because I've "drawn myself out" of the poem somehow. I'm no longer under the spell. Often I've lost interest and want to start something new. And partly because people suggest these big rewrites, which I do, and produce what's almost a new poem, only for it to be as full of flaws as the previous one, in need of another huge rewrite, which is full of flaws, and it goes on forever.

I'm hoping to develop my powers of self-critique at two workshops I'm going to this week, both part of the Runnymede Literary Festival, conveniently held at my university. One's run by Jo Shapcott and the other by Dell Olsen, who teaches various poetry-related things here at Royal Holloway. I had a bright idea this evening, or a cunning plan: go and see Dell Olsen in her office hours and ask her (bowing and scraping, of course) if she'd help me with any of my poems and also with applying for this year's Tower Poetry Summer School. Cheeky, I know, but worth a try.

Could someone clarify something for me - Rob was so kind as to point out that I can't post poems here which I intend to submit places, because apparently it counts as publishing them and no one wants pre-published stuff, obviously. Does this include drafts? How close to the final version can it be? Can you plagiarise yourself? Because I've seen people post poems that are also posted at PFFA and eventually headed for publication.

Also, my poem, Freshers' Week, and short story, The Stone Angel, have both been rejected by Flashquake. Boo. Hiss.


Matt Merritt said...

I wouldn't worry too much - I think feeling you've 'found your level' is probably a pretty common affliction for writers. It's a case of not being able to see over the next big step until you actually make it, which you will.
I had the same problem with online workshopping, but eventually started creating multiple versions of troublesome poems, each incorporating different suggestions. Left alone for months, the real poem tends to emerge and kill off its siblings quietly.

Rob said...

I fine that those times when I feel most stuck are the very points when I soon take a stride forward. It's a case of getting through the drought and sticking in there. These feelings never leave you, no matter what stage you are at - that's what I've found anyway-

I think you can publish poems on your blog as long as you take them down within 48 hours. That way it won't be cached by Google - there's no evidence you've ever posted them. You've got to be even more careful when it comes to poems you want to enter for competitions where the submission process is anonymous.

Poems posted to online workshops tend not to count as "published" in the eyes of most editors. Some editors don't count blog or even web publication as real "publication". It depends on the magazine. You need to look at the submission guideliens and exercise caution.

Hope that's helpful.

Rachel said...

Across the board, I tend to not post poems to my blog unless I don't intend on doing much else with them. It's just safer that way.

Regarding the levelling off and the workshopping:

BJ Ward suggested that all poets follow a certain pattern in writing - they experience a great amount of growth where their work just gets better and better, and then they plateau. Eventually, they grow again, and then hit another plateau. He was suggesting this in reference to Tony Hoagland, but he said he thinks it can apply to all poets - and I tend to agree. The difference, I suppose, is the size of the plateau.

And perhaps you need to give workshopping at PFFA a break. Sometimes it's possible to spend too much time workshopping with the same people. And sometimes the structure of certain workshops doesn't allow for much growth.

My 2 cents, anyway.


Nic said...

Forget about writing your own stuff, then -- just hang out at PFFA and critique for the newbies in General. That's some serious community service while your own muse takes some R&R. She'll be back, never fear, and you might as well feel good about what you're doing for poetry while she's away. All best, Nic