I want to write a lot of poetry and I want to write novels. It feels like a problem, a conundrum. The ghost of Malcolm Gladwell (someone pls exorcise me) whispers in one ear about how it takes so much focus to get truly good at something. But that part feels scared, angry, threatening instead of supporting. In the other ear, a friendlier ghost says it all matters. All of it folds in together into the same life; nothing is wasted. That voice feels gentle, loving, supportive. And so....I choose that voice. I don't have a problem; I have an opportunity.
Part of choosing that voice is about composting my experiences, revisiting them until I can get it all to come together. Learning as much as possible from the novel. From the poetry books. Not rushing on to the next thing but reflecting. Getting as much life as I can out of any given project instead of starting a new one. And that's what we're doing here.
Creatively speaking, writing a novel and writing poems feel worlds apart. I have a hard time even understanding them as the same medium.
The novel gives me space to create--to invent, to destroy, to follow impulses. It also asks me to give it a structure. And to give it (in all likelihood) years of my life. I don't even mean this specific novel--I just mean that I will likely spend years working on novels before I get good at them. Poems--you can luck into a good poem if you write often enough. And one good poem gets sent out, people see it, the circle completes. Novels require immense stamina. I'm so grateful for my previous artistic practices, for my long years of experience putting creativity and long-form work in the center of my practice, because if I didn't have that, I'd still be failing to write a novel.
The poem gives me space to notice--to feel, to observe, to highlight. When it's poetry writing hour, time dilates. I go back through my day and look for things that had any meaning, that stood out. Sometimes writing the poem surfaces the meaning. Sometimes the meaning is obvious and the struggle is getting the poem to convey it. But it's always about slowness and attention.
They both share rhythm, though the rhythms are wildly different and do not serve the same ends. In poetry, rhythm is musical, it happens at the word level and the line level. In the novel, rhythm is narrative, it pulls you forward in time. It happens at the scene level, I think? Though I hardly know. Still so new to this form, despite having two previous novel drafts tucked away in my drawers.
And they switch places. Sometimes when working on the novel, I find myself sinking down into that place of deep poetic noticing. Sure, I'm noticing details about a fictional world, but the skills are the same. And as I'm learning more about structure and pacing, story-telling--I see some excess in my poems, some lack of rigor. And I have some space for invention.