Thursday, October 7, 2010

On ruthlessness

I don't think about ruthlessness that often. I don't particularly like the idea that the MFA is just time to write (I prefer to think of it as time to hone skills), and yet still, being in an intellectually stimulating environment, surrounded by writers--it's kind of hard not to write a lot. Sometimes even, perhaps, too much.

The problem isn't culling the good work from the bad, it's figuring out which good work is good enough (i.e. worth other people reading).

I didn't realize how lackadaisical I'd become in sorting this out until I got the workshop comment that a piece was uncontrolled. I wondered what that meant. Uncontrolled. Did that mean purpose-less or audience-less or uninteresting, perhaps even unreadable? Would someone look at that poem, read a line and move on? Or even worse, read the whole poem and then think "that was a waste of time."

For the past three days I've been revising new poems maniacally, and also taking a sixteenth look at other work I'd considered finished.

My question, then, is whether other people feel the need to be ruthless with poems otherwise, perhaps for too long, handled with kid gloves? Can you induce ruthlessness? Would you want to? Or prefer to nurture a piece until, naturally, you can't stand it not being good enough anymore--and it either gets there or gets trashed for parts?

Or are you already ruthless?

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm...another great question. I think that each new line I write is edited so much even in my mind before it hits the paper. And then I read the entire poem over each time I add a new line, sometimes even a new word. My mental editor is ruthless from the start, I think.

    I don't know that I can force a poem into acting right sometimes. Those are the ones whose lines I keep in mind for stealing when I write other poems.


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