Carolyn Forché has a new collection of her own poetry, which is always cause for joy. She has compiled anthologies and written memoir and essays, but her poetry collections don’t appear frequently–five collections since 1975, averaging one poetry collection a decade. This is not a prolific output in terms of poetry collections compared with some of her peers, but her books are worth waiting for. I suspect that her poems, crafted with such memorable pacing and imagery, which unspool so purposefully–even mindfully, though that term is overused–must take time to consider, revise, or compose. I have to slow my breath just to take them in.
In the Lateness of the World lies on the book pile beside my bed at the moment, and I read about three to four poems at a time. Savoring them, thinking about their implications; despair and concern and grief, and deep love for the world we inhabit and the people who labor through the days. Forché, because of her “poetry of witness,” often gets called a political poet, mostly because she never shies away from confronting, and writing about, the injustices and damages inflicted on people and on the planet–and implicating the perpetrators. But she also avoids ideology. The perpetrators are not easily pegged in her work: all of us can be implicated, and all of us are affected, a network no single person or nation can untangle or resolve. Forché’s poems resonate with a complicated love and a recognition of how much work we must be willing to do.
Imagining Forché writing, I ponder my thoughts on revision and why I love doing it but simultaneously procrastinate on getting to it; good revision, in my case, requires a dedicated mindfulness and singular devotion that seems to require large blocks of time. I can compose drafts rapidly–jottings, notes, even entire pieces (unfinished but on track). Revision doesn’t work that way for me. It requires critical thinking. Analysis. Concentration. Mulling. Bouncing the work off others. Re-entering the mind of the moment. Waiting things out. Reading other poets. For example, reading the poems of a writer who seems to take her time on each piece, yet manages to keep the immediacy and gorgeous imagery in each of her poems intact.
How does a poet do that? Talent helps, but talent alone doesn’t get a writer to the fine observations and imaginative layers really good poems possess. That may require mediation, play, solitude, practice, revision, a community of writers, long gestation for some poems, mentorship, nature walks, travel… It’s likely I have not been dedicating enough mental and creative energies to my drafts. Or that I need some new methods.
My excuse is I don’t have time. But enough excuses. This is stuff I love, that I enjoy doing. Why shy from what I love?