A Writing Tip by Michelle Bitting
FINDING GOLD IN LOST TREASURE
“There is something to be said for a boundary, there is something to be said for unbinding.” ~ Diane Seuss
I remind myself and my students to write with abandon, to let language, image, and thought run wild and amok across the page. Forget about lineation, breaks, logic, punctuation, precision, or even “truth” (small ’t’) really, when launching into a new piece of writing. Prompts are great as guide posts, and I wholly embrace them for inciting the unexpected, stoking intuition, and allowing invention to surface. Prompts steer the imaginal waves in ways that encourage risk for the swimmer-scribe, while providing buoy markers, a.k.a. constraints. But what about those times the generative engine stalls, is thwarted, is “timing-challenged”? Or there’s simply a desire to revisit a shelved piece of writing that held promise but was abandoned? While Diane Seuss’s quote applies to perception and psycho-emotional dynamics inherent in writing itself—chaos and order, wildness and structure—be it metrical, syntactical, or a myriad other possible ordering principles—we might also consider boundary and unbinding in terms of basic crafting and making, meaning physical strips of paper, glue, tape, and words on a page we can play around with. Jericho Brown has described his poem-making practice to include cutting up past poems into single lines that he mixes in a bag, scatters, and pushes around a table or floor. Like sand or food, like minerals or rocks or gems, like bones or tea leaves or sounds tossed and watched as they carom, collide, ping, and spark off each other, igniting fresh ideas through chance, opening windows to poesis. New ledges propped in the tenuous house of poetic cards, a place for leaping into sweet creative abyss. One additional component of such unorthodox ceremony is the excavation of old poems considered flat or “meh” that the writer dropped, though never, in her heart, entirely abandoned. Harvesting parts and reforming new work from individual cut-up lines or clumps of words, a la Jericho Brown’s practice, can be surprisingly fruitful, and requires surrender to the chaos of unbinding while the writer considers fresh approaches to reconstruction. Might something vital be resurrected from the autopsied mess of typed and scribbled parts spread out across a kitchen space? Very possibly! And like both Seuss and Brown, lyric attention often presents opportunities for employing a formal form like the ghazal, pantoum, sonnet, or, as I did with a poem recently published in Cleaver, a villanelle. Brilliant Jericho Brown actually invented a marvelous new form called the Duplex through his disciplined play. Primo Diane Seuss won the Pulitzer for her superb book of provocative contemporary sonnets. Check out both for endless transformative inspiration. Unbinding lines from old poems, submitting to the limbo of questioning and play, but fearing not the unknown and eventually sought-after craft constraints can lead you, Writer, down undiscovered paths to the conjured new poem, the resurrected beast hidden, until now, in the magic heart of poetry.
Michelle Bitting is the author of five poetry collections: Good Friday Kiss, winner of the inaugural De Novo First Book Award; Notes to the Beloved, which won the Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award; The Couple Who Fell to Earth; Broken Kingdom, winner of the 2018 Catamaran Poetry Prize; and Nightmares & Miracles (Two Sylvias Press, 2022), winner of the Wilder Prize. Michelle Bitting is a lecturer in poetry and creative writing at Loyola Marymount University and in film studies at the University of Arizona Global.
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