Summer Reading (and Writing)–Reflections

A month ago I wrote about my summer reading and writing plans, mentioning that I was working my way through the Norton Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and also aiming to revise 5 poems a week. Because the summer class I’m teaching begins next week, I thought I’d offer a recap on how my plans have fared.

Regarding the reading, I’m on page 650-something of the anthology, and I’m optimistic I’ll finish it before my fall semester begins. In my previous post, I mentioned one of my “discoveries” (amidst the other poets I was already familiar with). I would have to say that my “surprise” during June has been Sylvia Plath. I’ve taught a few of her poems before (“Daddy” and “Metaphor”), and these were in the anthology, but I encountered so many poems new to me. As I read her work, I was struck mostly by her skill with figurative language. In “Blackberrying,” she describes a flock of crows as “bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.” Upon first reading this line, I decided to memorize it, feeling compelled to do so.

Other “discoveries” have been Ted Hughes, Geoffey Hill, Wole Soyinka, Okot P’Bitek, and Amiri Baraka. The work of these poets amazed me, as well as did the more familiar work of Mark Strand, Thom Gunn, Gary Snyder, and Adrienne Rich. My list of poets to read continues to grow, which I believe is one of the main objectives of an anthology. I definitely plan to read more Plath.

Regarding my writing, I have made significant progress on my goal, having revised nearly 40 poems since mid-May. Most of the revisions are a part of my working manuscript, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life. The bulk of revisions were from first-draft to second-draft stage, and I revised a few from second-draft to third-draft stage. The next part of the project involves determining which poems stay in the manuscript and which poems don’t make the cut. The summer has also been productive on the publishing end of the manuscript. One of the poems was just published in The Cresset. Two more were just released in the July/August issue of Perspectives Journal. 

Lastly, because I’m shifting (for right now) from individual poem revisions to manuscript assembly (and re-assembly), I’m switching my writing focus to revising short stories, in preparation for teaching Creative Writing: Prose in the fall. There isn’t the hard work of starting stories from scratch, but rather the fun work of writing second drafts of 7 new short stories I wrote last fall. How many years into this writing thing and I’m finally developing a more consistent writing rhythm: poetry from January-June, fiction from July-December.

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