Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Two good things

of Wayne Koestenbaum's (both courtesy of the excellent Dave Lull). First of all, a delightful piece in the new issue of Bookforum (I'm going to post at greater length about that issue when I have a minute to spare, lots of other great stuff too) that opens with this mouth-watering sentence:

Here’s how I read Mallarm√©’s prose, in Barbara Johnson’s lustrous new English translation: painfully, dutifully, passionately, a sentence at a time, while holding the French original in my other hand, so I can compare her sentence with his sentence, and so I can measure as accurately as possible each crevice where an adjective meets a noun, a comma meets a dependent clause.

Wayne is one of only a handful of writers (Toni Schlesinger's another) who makes me want to put their sentences in my mouth!

And here Tony Leuzzi interviews Wayne at Jacket Magazine. Mostly they're talking about sex and ottava rima (two very interesting topics, intersecting in the person of Byron) but there's a very funny and apt part about the writing process also, with regard to Wayne's own long ottava rima poem Model Homes:

WK: The book started as an exercise for myself. I wrote the warm-up, which appears before the “First Canto.” I was so happy to do this. I hadn’t had so much fun in years. I thought, “I’m going to write until I run out of inspiration.” I wrote much of it in August, which is the best month of writing for me because I go back to teaching in September and I’ve had a little leisure in the previous summer months, a kind of inner-fertilization period. I hit this August stride. Actually, it was in July. No, I wrote it in July. I started to revise the book in August. This is how I do most of my writing. I go with an impulse until it dies. And don’t give up. I get kind of obsessed and manic and work daily on the process and just keep going until I run out. It’s really hard to do. Since I wrote each of those cantos in a day, it was very hard to sustain it. I kept saying to myself “Don’t stop until you get to a satisfying number.” It was nine, but I completed fourteen or fifteen cantos and condensed them into twelve.

TL: Writing in form requires a good deal of discipline. Many writers write a long formal poem over a number of years. But you wrote it quickly.

WK: It did ultimately –– and this is the sad thing about spontaneity –– take several years. I wrote it that summer, spent a couple of months revising it, and then I showed it to a number of poet friends who told me the rhymes weren’t working. The original had much more approximate rhymes in it. Very approximate. Then I went back and reworked it. This process took me a year to make the rhymes as exact as I could and make the meter as exact as I could. This was Hell. By the time I had finished rewriting it, any memory of the original pleasure it had given me was gone.


That is a feeling every writer knows, and surely there is nothing to be done about it either. I like revising, it is often interesting and always essential, but I am deeply resentful of the long afterlife in editing of a project whose first draft seemed to use up all of the excitement and enthusiasm you had for it. I can work myself up again to enthusiasm as needed, but the problem is that the long spell of follow-up and reworking is generally incompatible with doing significant new writing, at least for me, so that you end up losing stretches of months that you had earmarked for the deep gratifications of new writing to the solid but less spiritually nourishing fare of revision.

1 comment:

  1. '... who makes me want to put their sentences in my mouth!'

    Oh, I like that - and often feel the same, so tend to re-read aloud quite a bit.

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