I've been writing poems lately...er, something like poetry, at any rate. And so last night I decided to revise one of my short stories - one that I've been wrestling with and wrangling since April of 2008 - as a series of prose poems. Something that can spread its wings a little further instead of being so damn literal and, well, prosaic.
I've done this before. In fact, the short story that got me into the Workshop to begin with was written in this manner. But I haven't swung this far out, this close to the perimeter - that borderline place in my mind where the real brutal crepuscular Truth is waiting - but is just barely beyond my ken. And so I can only describe the scenes I see, faithfully, in detail, with full allegiance to the metanoiac process. Kind of a mandala of words and images. A ring of bones on the forest floor, filled with twigs and stones and flickering light. I mean, I dream this way every night, but writing this way is something I've only recently considered.
In my last story, I wrote like this...but there was a reason to do it, plot-wise: One of the characters was mentally ill. The other two major characters were "disturbed" and just shy of insane. And so I had plenty of room and reason to color outside the lines and throw glass houses at all the rocks along the shoreline, as far as the prose goes. So it ended up being sort of a mezcla, partly poetry, partly fiction (or half n' half, if you will). But it's starting to feel a little stale, all this leaning upon plot contrivances in order to write the way I wanna write (which, to quote Samantha Chang, director of the Iowa Writer's Workshop, is to "write the kinds of stories that make you - the writer - cry"). And so now what I'm working through is how to do this without getting lost in my own voice.
Finding one's "voice" is a huge thing in the realm of writing. Most writers will tell you this. And what this whole "voice" business is about, really, is the separation of affectation from authenticity. But then (and I have to thank Bob Unger, Mary Jo Bang, and all the language poets for leading me, personally, to this axiom) sometimes its the case that affectation is the truth, or at least points the way, or maybe contains it in that "the micro contains the micro" sorta way. This fact confuses the matter considerably. And so it would seem that the only astrolabe one can employ in such a case is one's own personal methods of divination, craft, and intuition. This is when writing starts to feel like a big narcissistic quest for the Grail. Luckily, though, the process itself is ego-annihilating, and the macro really is contained within the micro, so really the whole modern world is opening up on the page, not just some writer's affectations or voice or whatever. A process we can all get behind. I think it was once called art...
But what is authenticity anyway? In my mind, it's a kind of certainty, a resolution. It's a commitment to see certain things through to the end and not be deterred or swayed or convinced to say or do something another way than you are doing it. Of course, this is tricky business. And balancing the Grail-quest with maintenance of one's connection to craft and an ordered, articulate aesthetic vision both complicates and simplifies. But that's what I'm up to these days, when I'm not forging lesson plans for next semester. The algebraic problem I'm working to solve, I guess is, How To Let The Unfolding Happen In A Way That Is Metered And Thus Self-Constructs Its Own Reason.