Poems in the interim

That feeling of being in limbo-land, waiting for a result, is certainly ennervating. Like when, in early high school science lessons, so long ago, we each had to pith our frogs. Like a once-living frog, now pithed, I feel nothing, no sense of proprietary ownership, or excitement, about any of my three novel beginnings. Just a general sense of desuetude. What a lovely word. But what a disheartening feeling.

Into the breach, in a very timely way, our Writing Group task this week has been to write a poem about time passing, or slipping away. Coincidentally, as part of my endless reading of The Guardian and most of the columnists therein, I’ve learned about MacGuffins. It was in Peter Bradshaw’s review of the recent re-release of The Maltese Falcon, the black bird statuette heralded as the greatest MacGuffin of all time. Whether the piece was stimulating, or not, I hit upon the keyboards punctuating my writing life as a way of marking the progress of time, as my own MacGuffin.

I wrote and wrote, poetically, but by the time I was at two A4 pages, I pulled back, editing tentatively but carefully, to finish the piece on just the two sides. Set it aside for contemplation, as I do. Just before our writing session, I recalled the admonitions for brevity, that ‘less is more’ and I thought, I’ll just do this again, in a tiny effort.

Well, the tiny effort has occupied another day of waiting, and I related my efforts to our group. There was consensus all around: editing sometimes necessarily has to involve taking that first draft and completely re-working it, now that the writer ‘knows’ the character and story inside-out, as it were. That’s how my tiny poem feels; I had to write the whole narrative of the keyboards I’ve experienced, from manual typewriters in Typing Class through IBM punchcard punchers, computer terminals, and on to my current laptop. Only then could I reflect on feelings, which didn’t need nearly so many words to put down.

It’s hard to say good-bye to all that verbiage though, but with the help of a good editor, of a penetrating critique by someone who can see through the heavy upholstery and over-stuffed furniture, I know I can get through to clear and compelling writing. It’s just that I’m my own worst editor.

And I haven’t even reached the shining uplands of the similes that avoid the use of ‘like’ or ‘as’ but rather sit glowing on the page exemplifying scintillating writing. The penetrating observations, descriptions that resonate. If I worked on them, too, with a careful nod to editing out the guff, I bet I could become a better writer.

In the sense that my habit is to just let words flow through my mind out my fingers to the screen, faster and faster, I could use a bit of slowing down, looking for descriptors and structures, rather than being satisfied with the first words that come out. Maybe I could aim for two, three or four sublime sentences, in a day of 1000 words, without letting that demon left-shouldered critic out, the one who says, this is all dross.

Maybe. Maybe when I’ve picked myself up again and hit the perseverance trail.

By Larry Winger

Retired scientist, devoted diarist (AllendaleDiary.org), community-minded aspirant novelist, I've lived on a smallholding in the East Allen Valley for the past 30 years, delighting in watching our family grow up, in experiencing the development of our grandsons, and in taking care of our small flock of chickens and garden.

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