In the continuing celebrations of National Poetry Month I am thrilled to host
Mary Alexandra Agner, whose wonderful poetry I have been recently savoring.
She can be found online at: www.pantoum.org
Female Science Professor (FSP) posted an article last month entitled “The
Hate Stage of Writing“. She discusses the ups and downs of attachment to your
work while writing scientific papers, including a brightly-colored graph showing her
attachment to the papers she’s written (ranging from hate to love) as a function of
the writing lifetime of the paper. I was struck by the similarities and differences
between her commentary and that in Diane Lockward’s thoughtful
discussion of when a poem is finished.
FSP’s article explores the idea that you know the paper is finished when you hate
it. And while Diane’s article doesn’t address that directly, her advice about
letting the poem sit while you “get uninvolved with it” is, to me, a similar stance.
Anger can make you objective. (It can also make you completely subjective, so
apply it to your writing process with caution.) Anger can give you a distance like
the one Diane is discussing but I’m intrigued that I don’t see poets blogging about
hating a poem and knowing it’s ready to go out, while a scientist does. Undoubtedly
my sampling technique needs improvement.
It is the graph in FSP’s post that catches at me. I would like to see similar ones
for poems, especially some that include the impact of the publishing process on our
attachment to our own work. We should all take to heart FSP’s comment that she
“certainly [doesn’t] submit or finish any of [her] papers in the hate stage.”
Diane, perhaps, might add that we shouldn’t submit our poems in the love stage
either, when you are too close to the work to be objective.
It should not surprise you, this many words into my own commentary, that I enjoy
crossing the boundaries between science and literature, two cultures that have never
seemed that different to me, even after all the energy expended to display how far
apart they are. All the poems in my newest book, The
Scientific Method, came to me as a guilty pleasure, bridging that gap and making
art out of what I was told was not possible. And the majority of them finished the
revision process with a resounding thump, excepting “Jump the Chromosome”
which I fear I revised away into too little, mostly based on some kind commentary by
an editor (who did not publish the poem). My graph, for the book as a whole, was one
flat line up between “like” and “love”. The only thing that kept my spirits up,
waiting to hear back from publishers, was that the poems continued to ring true for
me year after year. And that, rather than the objectivity of hate, is what allows
me to keep offering poems to editors for publication.
You can read a really scientific poem of Mary’s here