Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Writing Like a Farmer

Last Friday I went to see the wonderful Kris Delmhorst and her band at Passim. During the course of the show, she mentioned that she used to be a farmer, and that she still writes songs like a farmer: "You plant a lot of seeds at once, and they all grow up together."

The writer friend with whom I attended the concert asked me afterwards, "Did your heart just sink when she said that?"

And I was as surprised as she when my answer was, "No, actually."

The reason is that I've started writing poetry.1 One subset of my essay writing has been getting progressively shorter and more lyric, and for a long while this has seemed the natural next step to take. The biggest holdup was finding an introductory class that assumed no previous experience with poetry, but I finally found an eight-week course at an adult education center this winter.

And I'm loving it. In part, it's that poetry seems (to me, at least) so much less all-or-nothing than prose. The stakes on any individual poem are smaller. Don't like how it turned out? Throw it away! I haven't invested weeks or months exclusively in getting it right. Switching between works doesn't require the same level of effort. And revision is so much less painful, for reasons I have yet to understand. I know that all this should also be the case with prose, but that has always been more of a struggle for me.

Best of all, now I write like a farmer. Four weeks into my poetry class I've got four poems that are drafted and are cooling down for revision, two I'm actively working on, and two more in my head trying to build up the critical mass they need to get written.

Maybe it's just the change or a new set of goals rather than poetry per se, but I feel more productive than I have in years.

1 Because, you know, the number of people who read literary creative nonfiction is way too high.

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