Monday, 4 January 2016

Composition. Choosing. Grand Plans.

Today I'm thinking about the various ways we compose.
Mum took part in a creative writing class this winter - she's been writing her thoughts and reminiscences since and  they've blown me away with their clarity and focus. Mum writes carefully in beautiful hand writing. I know she thinks very much of writing as 'composition', the term used for the essays she wrote in school.
My sister-in-law invited me to read and respond to her draft novel over the holidays. This was an eye-opener and a privilege. I've never before had access to behind the scenes on that kind of scale. I'm staggered by the work that has gone into her novel already: the research and plotting and redrafting that has brought it to this fine, though not final, version. I'm excited to see what happens next: where will the redrafting take her?
My brother in Madrid has sent me the outline plot of a musical theatre piece he has written the music for, so that I might give him feedback on the story. How special an opportunity to observe and be involved, even in a tiny way, with the workings is that?
John met a client this morning and now is sketching alternative layouts and drawing up the plans for the project. While I was in chatting to him in the study (tea-ferrying) I heard some of the response on the radio to a photo published in the Manchester Evening News. This is the photo by Joel Goodman they were all talking about and wow, is it a study in composition?

Have a read of some of the commentary in the Guardian here

I'm obviously conscious of composition when I work on my poems. What goes in, in what order, what shape does the poem have on the page, when is a poem finished? I've gone back on poems and reopened them after a year or more of letting them sit, I'm not untypical in that. Sometimes I've put them back as they were in a previous incarnation. 
Then there is the matter of composing a representative selection of poems. That might be for a reading; in which case I look at what's gone down well before, where and when the reading is taking place, some new poems. 
This has been my writing work over the past couple of weeks. I've been choosing poems for submission for the Prebooked Reading at Cork International Poetry Festival and for my latest attempt at Poetry Ireland Introductions. The submission has been made to Cork, and I'm almost settled on my poems for PI.
Most exciting and challenging of all though: I've  been working on assembling my poems into a draft manuscript, selecting poems, ordering them in some sort of logical sequence. It's the biggest thing I have ever done with my writing. It calls for composing on a big scale, sitting back from the poems and reading them with an editor's eye and with a potential reader's eye as opposed to listener's ear. It means looking at the narrative as far as there is one in the selection. It means swinging between confidence that I write well and massive doubt.
So I listed what I felt were the best, then the next best, then the next best. If I had any doubts about the truth of a poem it didn't go in, if I saw workshoppiness in the DNA of the poem it didn't go in, if I saw lazy it didn't go in. I left out three that have been published in reputable magazines. 
I put in some poems I continue to champion despite rejection by reputable magazines. I included my first published poem among them. A Deer on Meenaroy was published in Revival in October 2010. It's been interesting looking back, satisfying to see the development of my writing, admiring for the most part composition decisions I made over the years.

Here's to 2016 and all it brings to the Garden Room Writers, to the Donegal scene, to you! 

A Deer on Meenaroy

We meet ourselves on the road,
versions of ourselves at least.
In a car we once drove
the same rush we used to be in  
full headlong into the turns that took us from
Milford and Ardara and set us in one place.

After twelve winters, we are driving home
from your father’s wake. I watch you sidelong,
reading your face in the orange dash light.

Then, just beyond your window, he is there
fractional in the shadows, I say
Deer, did you see him John? He was beautiful
but tired eyes on the road ahead, you’d missed him.

We feel his company later when we read
Memory of my Father
fished out of an old schoolbook
because it was whispering itself all day.
You shut the book suddenly
That’s enough of that.        
Like a smile beguiles a gag reflex,
the slap of the book cover
dissolves the lump in your throat.

In our darkened bedroom
you tell me again about the time
your Dad and you were driving home
and you met a deer on Meenaroy.

The deer, tonight, anchors the random things:
faith, fear, vacancy.