Tag Archives: advice

On rewriting inspiration

 When you ask me to revise a poem you ask me to meet again the Muse who seldom responds to invitation. She comes in suddenly through the door left open, announcing Her presence with words that have never sat together before. She says what She has to say and goes quiet; goes away or gets broken down into elements of the universe that I absorb without an intent.

Where am I to find this forceful genius?

I’ve been told to look for Her in spaces in-between words and lines, rhyme and rhythm, movement and breaks, language and sound. But I don’t find my Muse there; I find a key in a foreign language to a map that She drew.

Is She hiding in the white glow that lights my keyboard when I switch on my workstation? So, I should work and work and work on my verses. Or, is She in the deep breath that helps me ease into sleep? Then, I should breathe and breathe and breathe with my eyes closed to trick her into appearing. Perhaps it’s She who is the trickster: a mirage; a playful spirit that whispers in my ear. In which case I am cursed with the burden of loneliness.

With or without Her it seems it’s going to take a lot of time to re-see a moment that no longer exists, to re-write it in a way so that it exists forever.

 

I am beginning to grapple with the abstract idea of “completion” in creative writing which seems even murkier when talking about poetry. I read recently that “a poem is not truly finished until it has been seriously revised” and also “be wary of a poem that appears to be finished“. Statements that, as an amateur with 8 weeks of formal education in poesy, I find contradictory.
I need to also say that the poems you have been reading on my blog are not “seriously” revised. They have been written quickly, in a matter of an hour to a few hours if the form is tough (the Sestina, which is one of the hardest forms, took me about 12 hours). These poems are here more or less as they came to me. Now I am considering that all of this work here is a) probably unfinished, which is not a bad thing as, Da Vinci once said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned” and b) not good, trite, tripe. It’s making me question the quality of my natural skill for this art form. Though at present I am depressed by the thought, I am hopeful that I can see this as something to learn from; that all this self-doubt will make me a better writer and that it is a natural process. I hope it happens sooner rather than later because my Muse seems to have gone into hiding for fear that I will doubt Her every word and I cannot sleep because thoughts only She can give birth to have grown louder in my head in her absence.
I have received only love from this wonderful blogging community, for which I am immensely grateful but this post is not about  wanting an ego-boost. At this point I just want to learn from you, specifically about the role of revision in your creative process. Any and all thoughts are welcome from everyone, poet or not. Who knows who might be inspired by your comment!

Here’s an example of the creative process of the great Walt Whitman,

Original Manuscript: To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman (1874).
Original Manuscript: To a Locomotive in Winter by Walt Whitman (1874).

Summary of the manuscript (from Boston Public Library)

Written in Walt Whitman’s own hand, this early manuscript version of To a Locomotive in Winter shows Whitman’s creative process as he revised and reworked the poem, changing words and even pasting paper overlays of new passages until he was satisfied with the result. This manuscript poem is dated February 23, 1874, but Whitman continued to modify the text and it was considerably altered when published in 1876 in Two Rivulets, a companion volume to the 1876 edition of Leaves of Grass. This poem was republished in the 1900 edition of Leaves of Grass, well after Whitman’s death.

Image Source and further details: Boston Public Library (CC BY 2.0)

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Writing an Anagram poem: Hirsute

H I R S U T E

You would need a shirt
to cover up at the beach. A true
layer of warmth sadly does not suit
any season. The daily rite
of razing what is sire-
d not of your own volition is sure
to rub anyone the wrong way. Tire-
some products, apparatuses for a suite
bathroom – are sophisticated but hurt-
ful to a natural hobbit from the Shire.

Explanation:

I am trying something new. Sometimes prompts and normal styles feel mundane and I need a fresh challenge to push my creativity. Enter, Terrance Hayes. He invents new formal constraints to write interestingly about very human subjects. I haven’t read his works (yet); just the one poem: Nuclear, which is a perfect example for an ‘Anagram poem‘.

These poems are adopted from the word games that we find in newspapers. The rules are:

  1. End words must be derived from four or more letters in the title.
  2. Words which acquire four letters by the addition of “s” are not used.
  3. Only one form of a verb is used.

Crafting this poem was a very enjoyable experience. I found it stimulating to have to speak about the subject with the words that are derived from the subject – there is something very Cubist about this affair.

I haven’t made any surprising inventions here (and hope to get better with practice) but I was surprised by how my thoughts could weave around designated words and still not lose their intentions. Is this what it means to be led by the horse and the road?

Update: Judy from lifelessons blog chose this as her prompt for the day (thank you so much!) and has brewed a brilliant Anagram Poem of her own, with a twist. Make sure you read it here.

Nananoyz from Praying for Eyebrowz has also attempted an Anagram poem and made the challenge even trickier. A brilliant composition. Have a look here.

Irrational

Not just a mathematical uncertainty
An exclamation of human emotion that
Makes one feel insensible, irrational.
I wonder how much it matters – this
Need to logically think, to unravel
Quandaries with a stick of a defined length
And set out the shapes in perfect geometry.
Where does it come from?
We are governed by laws of nature
That can’t be broken, only mended.
So given how we are slaves
To the very idea of order, wherefore
We believe in chaos? Oh wait!
Isn’t it the other way ’round?
There is a tornado somewhere that
Seems lost and confused – the sense
In its existence being questioned as
It rapidly turns on its eye to see that
It is here because of a butterfly’s
Innocent flights of fancy.
Ah! The rational irrational.
I wish I knew you better.

Explanation:

I had to write by hand for 10 minutes without break, to let my irrational mind free and help me address new topics in poems.

I found the outcome interesting. I don’t know if I like it but it is what it is. (The poem is presented in its unedited form.) I was structured by the word and wrote about irrationality when I could have written about anything! I don’t even fully understand what I wrote: some math, chaos theory, natural world and almost no human emotion (which is the very essence of what I would consider irrational). I took the most rational subjects to speak about irrationality. Am I such an academic? Please don’t hate me!
“I wish I knew better” now feels other-worldly, like my own conscience was asking me to connect better with my emotions. Mildly freaked but highly intrigued!writing-with-pen
Why don’t you try the same? Make sure you handwrite it. I got very different results when I typed – very uninspiring and wholly depressing.

The Do that I Do that I Do so, well?

My café au lait which is too foamy for its own good sits hissing by the side while I silently waste my time on Twitter to find out what’s more important than Djokovic winning the Australian Open. People are sharing their blogs, inspirational quotes and there are other bits and bobs on there which on a better day I would have cared to click on. Not today. Today I am feeling admonished by my coffee: with every shush and hiss I can hear it tell me that I haven’t felt the need to “create” today. I knew this day would come, that ‘one day’ which can, depending on context and point-of-view, mean realisation of a dream or a nightmare.

So I open my WordPress Editor, switch on a playlist of one of my favourite contemporary Indian (pop and film) music composers; mildly surprised by how much his recent music is sounding like Christian rock, and here I am. The coffee is being drunk and heavy silence is being shut down by my long-lasting Logitech speakers. Today has not been a great day, so far. The scansion of my poem ‘A common love‘ failed and what I first “felt” I was writing in blank verse turned out to be in blah verse. Scansion? Blank verse?

Scansion: breaking down of poetic verses into stressed/unstressed syllables then grouping the syllables into a ‘foot’ (trochee, iambs etc) and then checking if there is a regular pattern to how the feet appear in each line which gives us the meter. The whole thing adds to how one perceives/hears a poem and can either exemplify a poem or destroy it based on the prowess of the poet. Scansion is of course based on interpretation and how one hears the syllables.

Blank verse: (preferably) non-rhyming, iambic pentameter, has emotive foot substitutions, with mid-line caesuras for added effect and interesting enjambments. It is probably the most sophisticated form of English metrical poetry.

This was my first formal attempt at writing anything in blank verse and I am not presumptuous enough to think that I would succeed; that in a few hours I could go from an amateur poet to writing like that Shakespeare chap or that Milton fellow. No, of course not. The other voice in my head is chuckling as I type this…because I “felt” I could do it. I stuck to the right syllable count and there are some interesting mid-line caesuras and enjambments (or so I believe). But I don’t have the iambic pentameter down. Will I ever? I. NEED. TO. have it down in less than 48 hours as that’s when my assignment is due.

Did I tell you that I am scientist? I have had an almost purely technical higher education. The last time I studied ‘art’ in any seriousness was NEVER. English was considered a fluff subject and social sciences a necessary evil. These seemingly innocuous subjects could pull down one’s GPA. The glorious GPA. In India we called it the total percentage – an oxymoron for a generation of, well, morons. Eat facts; Purge facts. The assimilation and digestion of these facts was encouraged just far enough to answer the “application-based” questions in the annual nation-wide central board examinations. I was inculcated into this band of buffoonery early and it’s not like I had a choice. No one ever has a choice in these matters.

When I prod my earliest memories of being in an “educational” institute in India I invariably come up with the scene of the annual parent-teacher meeting that was scheduled for the day when the final examination results was announced. I mean literally announced. We would enter our classrooms to find a list of names chalked out on the main board along with their respective total percentages. These were ‘The top 10 lists’ that went viral before such things were ever conceptualised. I say chalked out because for scores of children not seeing their names up on the board made the classroom feel like the scene of a murder investigation: their dreams and hopes had been killed off by the notorious evil of intense competition that they were somehow complicit in and their futures now being reevaluated and investigated in detail by persons of higher authority. Oh, the trepidation. Have you ever seen a six year-old have insomnia and indigestion because of stress? Please visit India in April and you’ll see millions of them.

In one of those evil annual meetings, when I was about 8 years old, in a prestigious school in Delhi an English teacher changed my life. Yes, we start learning early in India. I was distraught that I had placed 2nd or 3rd in the class and had missed out on the first place because of one percentage point or less. My teacher who smiled and handed my report card to my mother (who was very happy and proud of her child) looked at me with concern. She congratulated me on my rank and told me that I had done exceptionally well. She told me she was very happy with me and that I was an obedient child and very intelligent. The whole while I was looking at her wondering where I had lost marks that has costed me the rank. I wanted to see the other report cards. I am not good with praise so I was happy to have some critical points to mull over in my eight year old brain. She could sense, I think, that I wasn’t reassured by her generous compliments. Then she said something that pulled me out of my abysmal state with such force that I have over the years abstained from venturing into that dark cave of self-criticism and if I ever happened to find myself suddenly in that chasm then I would have the torch of her words to guide myself out:

She said, “Sampoorna. Always compete only with yourself.

Back then the biggest mystery of all to me was: How had she known what I was thinking? It’s obvious now that she was a good teacher who knew just what to say to make sure her student didn’t end up killing herself over that chalk outline. Perhaps what she didn’t know was that with those words she changed my approach to my education. (This time without the quotes.) I will never forget her, those words and that moment.

I have always loved science and have made a career out of a passion. But I have loved English and the social sciences too and it was probably because of my fourth-grade teacher’s wise words. I did well enough the latter subjects to keep my GPA high but did not go into them so deeply that it excluded me from the current generational agenda: Only Engineers and Doctors Allowed! That rant deserves its own post. However I competed with myself to know more about everything. I no longer looked for a blackboard, even a metaphorical one. I haven’t done so in a very long time. In the process I ended up having an illicit love affair with questions such as, “What is humanity?” and thinking thoughts way beyond my curriculum and career path such as , “Without language we would never have realised that we all have the same questions.” I can go as far as to say that my teacher’s wisdom has led me to be the mixed by-product of societal expectation that I am: neither an engineer nor a doctor but somehow both. This blog is also an extension of that self-competitive state which I would now rephrase as self-discovery. I am learning as much about myself as you are about me.

And now, how come a scientist ended up caring about scansion, blank verse, poetry? Because competing with oneself means learning constantly and creating something everyday. I am no longer planning and doing experiments but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an original thought to put to paper. And that brings me to my dismal day which somehow this post has redeemed. The itch to scratch out verses is returning. The evening is still youngish and I need to retry writing blank verses. I seem to suck at it but heck, who’s keeping scores?

Today's Daily prompt helped give direction to my thoughts: Teacher's Pet

ROL: Reading Out Loud

Type transformed into tenable tones
Simulates sounds of intentions unknown
A co-ordinated sensory effort to catapult
The mind out of the orbit of reason
Out of season out of reach
Out every experience just to
Land securely but shaken
Demurely but unmistaken-ly
Inside the land of poetry
That dreams and talks and rhymes
Unashamedly; that walks and chimes
As the bell of factories of flesh
And grime and mirth and time;
Requires each and every one of us
To stop letting our fingers
Do the talking as they underline invisibly
The words on a page of philosophy
Our eyes intone inwardly. Stop.
Filling vacant dimensions of space
Allow aloud always
Witty words of varied verses
Sing the praise
Of a very human enterprise.

Solar by Philip Larkin teaches

Sunset in France
Sunset over the marshes of Camargue, Southern France. (c) Sam Rappaz, 2012

Solar

Suspended lion face
Spilling at the centre
Of an unfurnished sky
How still you stand,
And how unaided
Single stalkless flower
You pour unrecompensed

The eye sees you
Simplified by distance
Into an origin,
Your petalled head of flames
Continuously exploding.
Heat is the echo of your
Gold.

Coined there among
Lonely horizontals
You exist openly.
Our needs hourly
Climb and return like angels.
Unclosing like a hand,
You give for ever.

(November 4, 1964; 1974)

 – Philip Larkin (1922-1985)

Larkin’s mastery of metaphors leaves me breathless. Each image is unexpected and unforced. I read, I try, I learn and with each passing day the talent for expressing the ordinary in extraordinary terms is developed. It’s tough, frustrating and words can seem immalleable but the rewards outweigh the effort multifold. Anyone who has ever wanted to write in any genre and write well must read poetry – a lesson I am learning too late for my liking but ever so eagerly.

Sam’s Secret Quips on Giving

Daily prompt: Secret Santa
You get to choose one gift — no price restrictions — for any person you want. The caveat? You have to give it anonymously. What gift would you give, and to whom?

I wish I could present my loved ones with things that are not things.

Stuff begets stuff.

You generally don’t need money for happiness that is happiness.

A commercialised sentiment is no longer a sentiment.

Choose: more or less choices.

Gifts given anonymously don’t stay anonymous for long.

The act of giving is fulfilled only upon acknowledgement.

Is there anything more guilt inducing than a thoughtful gift?

Is there anything more persistent than a thoughtless gift?

The only gift worth giving is the gift of time and I seem to have squandered mine thinking of what gift to give.

You don’t need to give, just lend an ear.

Here and Nowhere

Eiger & Mönch (October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz
Eiger & Mönch (October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz

To the untrained eye ego-climbing and selfless climbing may appear identical. Both kind of climbers place on foot in front of the other. Both breathe in and out at the same time. Both stop when tired. Both go forward when rested. But what a difference! The ego-climber is like an instrument that’s out of adjustment. He puts his foot down an instant too soon or too late. He’s likely to miss a beautiful passage of sunlight through the trees. He goes on when the sloppiness of his step shows he’s tired. He rests at odd times. He looks up the train trying to see what’s ahead even when he knows what’s ahead because he just looked a second before. He goes too fast or too slow for the conditions and when he talks his talk is forever about somewhere else, something else. He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there he will be just as unhappy because it will be “here”. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him. Every step’s an effort, both physically and spiritually, because he imagines his goal to be external and distant.

– Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Mönch & Jungfraujoch -(October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz
Mönch & Jungfraujoch -(October 2014) (c) Sam Rappaz

Fashion Advice

Black to hide the tears
that drip off your chin,
or white
to heal the senses?

You either wear anger
disguised as anguish,
or helplessness stitched up
as disappointment.

You wear a patchwork
of your life,
or a crochet
of your dreams.

You model the look
of being in control.
That what’s about to unfold
is part of a grand design.

You choose the palette,
the fabric, the pattern.
But the norm
dictates your style.

What do you wear,
to an abortion?
Anything really,
but a smile.

(..)

Proverbial

This, I note with a smile:

My own two arms have done just fine.

I remember Mama’s words

From each time I had whined –

‘Help is at the end of your own arm’, she’d said.

Because not many will help without gain,

I was taught well I find.

Inspired by prompt