Last-Minute Poetry Marathon, Day 1

For background on this Marathon, take a look here.

Today is the first day of the Last-Minute Poetry Marathon. I chose to go to a familiar and comfortable location, Landman Library at Arcadia University. I’ve done a lot of sessions here; it’s about a 15 minute walk from my house.

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I go out my front door, walk a couple of houses down the street, and turn left to walk past the high school. You know, if I could go as the crow flies, I’d be there in no time – the center of campus is essentially straight ahead. But I have to loop around the playing fields, a condo development, walk through the diner’s parking lot, cross a very busy road…so it takes a little more time.

Once I arrived on campus, it was easy to see fall in full swing there.

I decided to walk around a little in the library this time – usually I go straight to a desk and to work, but today I felt restless. I thought I’d check out the lower level – it contains offices, the periodicals storage area, and some other functions.

Here’s something interesting. As background, Arcadia University used to be called Beaver College, named for the Pennsylvania county where it was originally located. It moved to the Philadelphia suburbs, grew larger, decided to admit men (it had been a women’s-only school), and then became a university and changed its name. I remember when the last bit happened; there was some sadness among alums at losing the old name. I see it’s not forgotten; I found a display case with beaver memorabilia and took a look.

Next door was the archive room. Wow! I wish I could get inside and poke around.

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I also checked out the periodicals storage area. This kind of file system always makes me a bit nervous; I can’t help wondering if I could somehow get caught in it and squeezed flat…

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All right. Now that I’ve given a little tour, I’ll tell you about the writing experience.

I went back to my favorite area, the reading room on the second floor. The place was just full of students. Mid-semester and people do step up their studying! I set up my things on a table near the end of the room.

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As I usually do, I spent about an hour writing poetry, fast and without editing, just letting the words emerge. Then I turned to my project for this Marathon, revising a group of poems I had written between 8/15 and 8/16.

This group has a theme: photos. Every few days, I snapped three photos pretty much at random. Then, I wrote a poem using inspiration from all three photos. In some cases I drew very literally from the image; other times, well, you might be hard-pressed to see how I made the connections. Anyway, I ended up with about 90 poems, and now I want to make this collection into a book.

After some thought, I had decided to work on the poems without referring to their photos. I want each poem to stand on its own, to have meaning and to be complete, without the reader needing to refer to something outside the poem. I started with the earliest ones, from more than a year ago. They hadn’t been modified since I slapped down the words straight as they came.

I noticed that these poems are longer than what I usually write. I’m not sure why that is, but I like it. Sometimes I can tell when I move from one photo’s inspiration to another, and other times, it all seems seamless.

I also see that the photos, and specifically the juxtaposition of images and the need to weave unrelated things into a whole, sent my mind in directions I might not have gone otherwise. Now, I’ll tell you, I really like that.

I can see that editing these poems will extend beyond this Marathon. With such distance in time from their writing, I have to re-immerse myself in each one, and that takes a little time. I wonder if I’ll find the same as I work on poems done more recently.

So – there we are after Day 1. Let me give you one of the poems I did in the speed-writing portion of the session, brand new and maybe a little awkward, but anyway – here it is.

6.
Revision of our previous agreement
the one written on the paper bag
let’s try this time to make things more official
Here is a napkin. I do have a pen
filled with
permanent
waterproof
ink.
In case you feel like crying.

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7 thoughts on “Last-Minute Poetry Marathon, Day 1

  1. That’s great, and thank you! I hope you enjoy the process. I really feel it led me down a lot of interesting paths and the more random the photos were, the better things seemed to go.

  2. I like the photo idea, too. And I like the poem. As a historian by training, I think of all those scraps of paper that I would have loved to see (and sometimes are found in archives)–the ephemera of other people’s lives that I’m nosy about.
    And there’s Bob Newhart’s old comedy routine about Abe Lincoln with the ad executive telling him “on the backs of envelopes.”
    I thought of you on Sunday when we went to my sister’s house in Roslyn. 🙂

  3. Thank you for everything you said and especially for remembering me out in your “real” life! The photo idea worked out well and in a different way than I thought. I never expected the variety of ideas pushed up by photos considered in relation to each other (when they have no relationship!) Making connections among them really sparked things.

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