TRACKING THE MUSE
Four Writers on Process
In 2007 the editors of Blackbird asked four contributors featured in our Introductions Reading Loop to write about creative process in “Tracking the Muse.” The quality of the resulting essays convinced us to make this an annual feature. This year, three poets and a short fiction writer discuss how the happenstance and anguish of revision contribute to the magic and hard work of creative expression.
Nicky Beer distrusts inspiration, thinking that it smacks of motivational movements, and, instead, locates words at the root of the matter. She finds them in the dictionary, where the “utility of language is made manifest.” She says “ when either the moment or the momentum fails me; I always manage to find bursts of stimuli in those orderly columns of words.”
Kara Candito describes “process” as a euphemism, bathroom tissue to toilet paper reality. The surprise for her is how much the real seems to subvert an idea. If I end up with a good poem,” she writes, “a poem that reaches beyond the limitations of its original perceptions, all of this work is subsumed by a kind of inevitability, a momentum that seals its own seams with invisible thread.”
Thomas Cooper is pursued by the voices of demoralization and tries to fight his way through their prevailing static to the limitless expanse of an empty page. Those voices natter in detail and with humor. “I hope,” he notes “the neighbors don’t see me here on the couch, hunched in my pajamas over my laptop. They probably think I’m challenged in some way, eking out a pathetic existence on disability checks.” He aims to shut the voices down and enter the silence of that blank page.
Anna Journey offers an illustration of how her work takes shape and provides us with copies of her drafts. Her poems begin in hen scratch and doodle, then follow a path of carets and arrows to emerge in an authoritative typescript.