Friday, December 6, 2013

A Hammering of Earth (Revised)

Something in the heart of a poet

After I first write down a few lines for a poem, I might leave off for a bit, let thoughts percolate or agitate or free associate. But I generally push to complete a draft pretty quickly. And I rarely start another poem before I revise the one I'm working on, get past that first complete draft to a version that feels finished to me.

Once in a great while an unfinished poem I'd forgotten about will somehow resurface and I'll find that I'm interested in working on it again. When that happens, the poem usually gets better.

I've also got a bunch of poems that I've finished more than once. And I say "finished" because with many poems I thought, with something like relief that I was done and then more time of a different sort passed and I rediscovered the poem and it didn't seem finished anymore, so I finished it again. When that happens, I usually feel better about the new effort than I did about the old one.

Proceeding in my usual fashion might suggest that the poems I decide to call finished weren't ever really done. Maybe I'm just in the habit of settling for something that's okay because I'm afraid of how much work it takes to make it better than okay, to make it good. But why?

I do know that when I think about myself as a poet writing poetry, I get this immediate follow-up feeling that maybe that's not who I am and that's not what I'm writing. Maybe I'm just a dumb ass writing drivel.

Maybe what feels profound to me is simply trite. Maybe the serious or playful or loving voice I hear in my head is little more than the babble of my blood rushing by while ego presumes the sound has some universal meaning and the writer has some ability to express it.

But one thing that I rarely do is complete a poem one day and go back to it the very next day. Still, that's what I did today, worked on revising a poem that I finished and posted just yesterday. I did that one thing I almost never do. Decided immediately that what was done wasn't good enough and began to worry it and gnaw it because I had this feeling that it deserved better and that I could make it that way.

So I worked on A Hammering of Earth, the poem I just posted yesterday. Broke it apart some, and added some, and took out some of what struck me today as weaker than it had seemed yesterday. And got all the way to the new end, to the current version and finished-for-now poem. And I think it's better. So I'm going to include the new version in this post.

But I do want to say what I think I may have learned here is this:

Being a poet takes courage. I think the good ones are more consistently brave than I am. But if I really want to be a poet, I'm going to have to learn to be brave, to look at what I've done and say to myself, "you can do better."

Finishing a poem too quickly, getting to the end because it's easy, is probably punching out early, is probably being too eager for the happy hour, pretending the work is done when the drinks are poured. Celebrating too soon is not brave. And probably wouldn't be a common error made by a writer who had the courage of a poet.

Anyway, here's the new version of

A Hammering of Earth

Deep in the grave,
blind in the gloom,
a spasm of wishes,
an eruption of dreams,
a pounding and hammering
and gathering of earth.

Clawing the dirt
in tumult and temper,
a hint of desire,
a longing for more,
a pounding and hammering
and gathering of earth.

In the rough damning circle
he wandered as though
he might blow
the next minute.
Resting, then waxing,
drifting, then winging,
through space hung with shrouds.

Shadow gliding in,
a leopard at night,
she briefly stops by,
a succor of seasons,
a peak and a whisper.
Just so is he rescued,
speeded away,

a new cycle started,
a grandeur of wishing,
a flexing of dreams,
a pounding and hammering
and gathering of earth.

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