Six Contributors on Process
Several years ago, the editors of Blackbird asked contributors featured in our Introductions Reading Loop to write about the creative process in a feature we called “Tracking the Muse.” The quality of the resulting essays convinced us to make this an annual feature. This year, three poets and three short-fiction writers discuss how the happenstance and anguish of revision contribute to the magic and hard work of creative expression.
Jocelyn Cullity reaches for the concrete, the step-by-step nature of the work. She notes, “When it’s all down, I take a lot of time looking for the design within the bulky, messy pages. I rewrite more carefully now—but I’m still not looking up to see what the whole piece looks like. I’m focused on the road, mile by mile—my eyes on the paragraph in front of me.”
Melody Gee looks for the anchor in the ether of a beginning. “A poem always interrupts two silences,” she writes, “the writer’s, by her own urgent composing, and the reader’s, whether out of interest or kindness or happenstance. As solitary as writing can be, this relationship remains crucial. For me, to write is to need to hear myself and be heard by another, to be listener to my own memory and then listened to.”
Zachary Mason finds a touchstone in treatment of language, pared down and honed so that “the goal is for the prose to be so light that it is almost unnoticeable, that, in the ways the connotations and denotations merge and interact, it has a sense of opening a window directly onto meaning.”
Airin Miller depends on noticing what is around her. She wants “to repurpose, not record. The knowing in the guts is the sudden connection between the unrelated. This is what I pursue in fiction. It is exhilarating to find myself leagues from where I began.”
Joanna Pearson distrusts questioning her resources too closely. “So,” she writes “I often wonder if there’s truly such a thing as Poetic Process. Such a sturdy, official-sounding phrase. Can it possibly exist? If indeed it does, some superstitious part of me does not entirely want to understand it, and thus I will not probe too deeply.”
Sara Quinn Rivara is willing to confront the central question. “But I return,” she tells us, “as I suspect we all must always return to our center, that which terrifies us most and makes us feel most alive. Writing is work, I tell my students. Don’t rely on inspiration, or else you’ll never write at all.”