Friday, March 14, 2008

The early abysmal drafts

Rachel Aviv has a great little piece about Grace Paley at the Poetry Foundation website. (Link courtesy of The Dizzies.) I have never read Paley, strange to say, but really this must be remedied! Here's a good bit (hmmm, I could take a leaf out of her book...only not so much with the pies!):
Paley worked on Fidelity sporadically in the 15 years before her death. “She had very little time for writing,” Nichols says. “When the volunteer fireman asked her to make a pie, she’d make a pie. She was open to everything.” Throughout the book, she repeatedly alludes to how difficult it is to complete a piece of writing: “To translate a poem / from thinking / into English / takes all night / night nights and days.” In “The Irish Poet,” she describes a class of poetry students studying the masters and worries that none of them will ever put in enough work:
flashed onto a screen the poems
are by Shelley Yeats Bishop

they are serious teachers these poems
are the early abysmal drafts
of great poets the students are
encouraged they have many abysmal
drafts themselves they have usually
stopped at oh their second or
third draft what if their longing
for their own true invention
of language is not strong enough what
if they are satisfied too soon
Paley often spoke of her own indolence (“I laze. I mean really hang out”) and was rarely able to write pieces longer than five or six pages. She blamed it on her temperament: she was fairly happy. She put out few books—three story collections and four books of poems over nearly six decades of writing—because she was raising two kids, traveling, and protesting three wars. “It is the responsibility of the poet to be lazy to hang out and / prophesy,” she writes in “Responsibility,” perhaps her most famous poem. Paley once said that she started writing when she got “a strong language feeling”—when she heard a phrase she liked, sometimes uttered by a friend—and, from there, decided whether there was enough momentum to make it more than a poem. Many of her best pieces sat around as first lines for months before she figured out a way to move on.

1 comment:

  1. oh, you must read her, she is so incredible--that kind of seemingly transparent and effortless prose that is so obviously the product of enormous effort (and not at the last minute) (that's a lame Grace Paley pun) (only telling you that because you haven't read her, so might not know)