Changing Direction Mid-Creation (or: Why Writing Long Poems is a Terrible, Terrible Idea)

This morning I managed to finish another stanza. Yippee! At this rate, I'll be finished with the poem in the year that I retire.

Part of my sluggishness over the past few days is a direct result of changing a major plot element of the poem. Perhaps I should explain first that I had, more or less, mapped out the course of the poem/fairytale according to 1) fits of inspiration and 2) guidance from the last few pages of a text titled The Classic Fairytales, edited by Maria Tatar. The last entry in this anthology is taken from Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale. This essay is, crudely but very admiringly put, The Shit. Propp analyzed 100 Russian fairy tales and managed to come up with a list of 31 "functions" -- or events/details/characteristics -- that fairy tales possess. "Propp's Thirty-One Functions" was extremely useful in helping me shape the plot line of my own fairytale. Most important was the following:

3. The sequence of functions is always identical.

As for groupings, it is necessary to say first of all that by no means do all tales give evidence of all functions. But this is no way changes the law of sequence. The absence of certain functions does not change the order of the rest.

In other words, take what you want, but don't f**k with the order. I'm trying to keep this in mind as I write the actual fairy tale in verse, but as I've just discovered, sometimes your characters -- or rather, your development of the characters -- demand significant changes to what you originally conceived as the arc of your narrative. In short, and perhaps more eloquently: What I thought was gonna work just wasn't gonna work.

So . . . I was struck with a moment of panic, as is par for the course whenever there's a hitch in my giddyup. (Thanks for THAT expression, Dad!)

The panic petered off into a slow and steady hum of disquietude over the weekend, and then manifest itself in another fit of housecleaning and closet organizing yesterday (with pen and paper nearby, so I could still claim that time as "writing", of course). And then this morning I took the one-day-at-a-time approach, as my lovely therapist M.B. keeps reminding to me to do with all aspects of my life. And blammo! A stanza appeared. It felt good to realize I just have to figure out what she (my protagonist) is going to do next -- not necessarily three strophes from now. I just need to shape the thing stanza by stanza, or really line by line, and then just keep the old plot outline for nostalgia's sake or in case I get desperate and need a reminder of where I was heading with this project in the first place.

Also, it's important to note that this change in direction also forces me (I think) to ditch completely some of the lyric poems I'd written back when the project was a lyric sequence. Because of the change in plot, some of those images and lines I loved and thought just lovely will have to go the way of the dodo. Who said that line about "murdering your darlings"? (Answer: Arthur Quiller-Couch. Thank goodness for Google and!) Anyway, I suspect a portion of my panic/disquietude/sophomore-strophe-slump was due to this realization -- I was mourning, in some small part, my loss of these poems that, you know, I kinda liked.

Of course, I have A.P. to thank for most of this, because he's the dude who suggested taking the lyric poems of the second section of the MS and reworking them into a long poem. Thanks for the torture, JERK! And more sincerely, thank you, because I have an overwhelming feeling that this process is good for me, that I've learned more about poetry and my own writing process since embarking on this project than I ever did before. And, for all of my complaining, this is fun after all. A weird kind of masochistic fun, and I am totally outing myself as the dork I truly am, but fun nonetheless.

P.S. I'll give you a dollar if you can come up with a good tag line for this blog, because I sure as hell can't.


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