So we’ve gotten our first week of revisions back. A little bit into last week, I started to feel completely overwhelmed with my project. The reason: Sylvia Plath is damn GOOD. I was feeling a little bit discouraged with what seemed like an impossible goal to write like her.
The realization that followed from that is two-fold. First, I realized that I need to be able to take this project, this book, and spin it into something that’s mine, not hers. Instead of thinking of it in a broad, general way, I need to start thinking on smaller scales. What would happen if I wrote a poem with this same title? How can I be aware of form in the way she is aware of form? What can I learn from her use of sound? Her image palette? I used these thoughts in several ways while writing poems this week. I think I’ve been conscious of sound and form from the beginning, but I also realized that I can take them and use them to my own advantage, without perfectly mirroring her. Example: longer lines seem to work better for me, at least during the writing process. When I begin with short lines and little stanzas right off the bat, I start to walk into VERY lyrical territory, full of strings of pretty clauses that don’t make sense. In some of my poems from last week (and possibly one from this week) I have to go back and add in some real-live sentences for clarification purposes. I think starting out with longer lines (and breaking them later, if need be) I can avoid that problem. I wrote a poem entitled “The Other,” a title that also appears in Ariel. I like the result. I think it will go to an interesting place, even though it’s a different place than Plath’s poem went. Finally, I wrote a poem that was basically a clean, simple exploration of my own image palette.
Second, I revisited Plath’s revision process in the newly published facsimile of the original manuscript of Ariel. It includes copies of several different versions of some poems, including the title poem, progressing from the first draft to the final draft. What I realized when I read “Ariel,” especially, is that that poem did not begin as a masterpiece. In fact, the first version of it isn’t even that great! I’m not meaning to bash Sylvia Plath here, I still think she’s an under-appreciated genius. What I’m saying is that I can’t expect everything I write to be pure gold the second it leaves my brain. This editing process will be crucial…thank goodness I have almost two months to edit over winter break!
Overall, I’m happy with the way things are going. There are still some major questions to answer, though. When I began this project, my frame seemed focused enough. Now, I’m not so sure. At workshop on Friday, Di asked us what these poems were doing for the reader, or for us. Are they making things come together, or pulling things apart? What’s at stake? I don’t want to spend 80 pages lyrically yelling “I am woman hear me roar” in ex-boyfriends’ faces. More on this soon, hopefully.