As regards my recent long weekend assessing and organizing my work, the most startling revelation has been its sheer volume. I keep my printed poem drafts in an old-fashioned cardboard letterhead/correspondence box which holds two reams of paper–1,000 pages–and the box was full. Among poets who experience writer’s block this abundance may seem a problem worth having, but keep in mind two things:
1) This output represents over 15 years of uncompleted, unrevised drafts and
2) Most of the poems are crappy, or mediocre at best.
Apparently I have taken to heart William Stafford‘s advice that if one has trouble with writing, “perhaps you should lower your standards.” *
Abundance is a fine thing, but anyone who has ever cleaned a barn stall or an attic knows that sheer volume does not count for much. And one cannot spin bad drafts into gold without considerable help from supernatural guides or wily trolls, neither of which accompanied me to the cabin.
Thus, I had to toil on my own, critique my poems, evaluate which ones have most “promise,” and try to keep myself from throwing absolutely everything into the woodstove. The work required solitude, discernment, frequent breaks for walks, tea, exercise, reading work other than my own, and (eventually) wine.
Also the occasional nap. My brain gets sleepy after awhile.
The outcome? I winnowed, though possibly not enough. I have begun the disciplined, for now, revision process of the “active” stack of work. It is entirely possible that there’s a collection or two in there, though I will not know that for some time.
It will not be gold, but it will be a vast improvement over the accumulated dross..
*In an interview with Bill Moyers, and widely quoted elsewhere