Every Possible Blue is here! A box of books was waiting by the front door one night this week. I opened it slowly, carefully, with the same mix of excitement and worry I felt when Subject to Change was published, back in 2004. But then I saw it, and held it in my hands, and flipped through it: my book.
There are more powerful feelings in the world, to be sure -- more meaningful moments, other things I might wish for even more -- but for a writer this one ranks very high on the list.
This book has been a long time in the making -- from writing the first of these poems, to figuring out how they could fit together as a manuscript, to finding a publisher, to seeing the actual book into print. And now, at last, it's here.
An old friend asked me to "write about how it feels when you look at something you've written and consider it finished... I'd like to know how that feels."
It takes me a long time to feel sure that a poem is finished. And even when I think it's done, I'm usually wrong. As I'm sending a poem out to magazines, I keep tinkering with it. And as I'm arranging poems into a book manuscript, I'll edit them all some more.
When I am finally sure a poem is finished, the feeling is bittersweet. That's because, although finishing a poem is always what I'm after, ultimately, the best part of writing a poem is when I'm right in the middle of it. That's the sleeves-rolled-up time when I'm revising -- rephrasing and rebreaking lines, ironing out kinks, doublechecking the right name for something (a bird? a tree?) or tracking down that word I only half-remember hearing once but have a hunch is exactly what I need in the next line. When things are clicking like this, the rest of the world falls away. Once I heard the poet Gerald Stern say that, even when he's writing, he'll always pick up the phone. He's just too curious who might be calling. But I'll let it go to voicemail every time.
If I get into this good middle part on a quiet Saturday or Sunday, I might work through three or four drafts that day: printing a clean copy, then reading it aloud, marking up changes, walking around the room and reading it again, then typing in the changes, printing a clean copy, and pretty soon going right back at it. Weekdays, if something's coming to a boil like this, I'll fold up a copy and carry it in my pocket, to reread and scribble on during the lunch hour, or whenever I have a few free minutes. The subway, when I can get a seat, is good for this kind of rewriting. And planes, too. I've done some good work on New York-to-Detroit flights, for instance. That's the beauty of writing poems: unless they're epic, they're portable.
When a poem is done, the feeling is bittersweet because my relationship with it changes. I'm no longer in it -- that moment, that particular assemblage of words. When writing and revising, I'm filled with possibility, imaginging my way towards my perfect poem. And then when it's done, it's not perfect, of course, but done as well as I can do it. (That is the hope.) Then the door closes on that poem and I'm looking -- eager, anxious, always worried I won't find it -- for the door into the next poem.