(photos from the Loft website)
Part of the involvement in the Loft Mentor Series is working with an out-of-state poet for an intensive weekend. (We also work with a local poet, and in this case it's Jude Nutter, and a pair of fiction writers and a pair of non-fiction writers.) Oliver de la Paz was our poet, and my son Finnegan sat in my lap the whole while. (Excepting, of course, when I was walking the halls with him, etc.) So my notes are sporadic, but valuable. Oliver has a reputation for being an excellent teacher, and it's well-earned.
- Receptivity to reader: narrative, sequence, tone ---> create a map, must be an entry point.
- can have one subject, but something else must run parallel
- we are the summation of our contexts--studying other writers when you've written yourself into a corner--there's something to be said about painting over the work of the masters (imitation as exercise)
- "A little backwards movement to go forward"--sits down to revise for half an hour before generating for half an hour (this is where he told the story of how cleaning up kid-poo on the carpet for half an hour isn't conducive to a productive poetry-mood, so he revises in order to return his focus)
- (when asked about continunity and revision for the sake of a book) story of how Nick Flynn changed a poem of his that was published in a journal to match the tone of his book; de la Paz's "Requiem" was originally one long poem, but he wanted to maintain inertia, if it was kept as one long poem within the book, would have been weight unable to overcome, written as sonnet so could be autonomous but the poem did sacrifice itself for the sake of the book
- (when asked about his attitude towards his town in Requiem for the Orchard) looked at Larry Levis, who wrote about Fresno with a love-hate relationship, de la Paz learned a lot about his feelings towards his own town; the slow, descriptive quality ideal for nostalgia and small epiphanies; couldn't tell if eye loved Fresno or heart did; Levis described with a loving eye even the grotesque
- (when asked about common pitfalls of submissions): gives himself 48 hours to resubmit poems, emphasizes knowing the journals
- (how does he know when he's done?) surrenders process to editor, work can calcify or not move forward--being through with writing is not the same as being done with a piece
He worked us through a writing exercise packet, in which we wrote about a poetic obsession, answering questions about it: What color would it be? What sound? What animal? If it were a boat, what ocean would hold it? What continents would it see? If you were to marry your obsession, describe your wedding cake. The view of your obsession's apartment? How will it die? We then were told to write a five-word sentence that is also an image. The idea here is to help expand boundaries--make the animate inanimate, etc.
Then we examined poems, asking: What is palpable for you? We looked at repetition and rhythm as a way of structuring meaning. Of the way rhythm can reveal content. One exercise was to adapt the exquisite corpse he called the wall sonnet, where one would write a new line each day on a series of ten sheets, moving the covering paper down on the poems--the number of poems and the number of days would allow for enough improvisation to surprise the writer. The idea here would be to continually think about the obsession, to have only this small context in mind, leading to spontaneity. In his book, the poems called "Self Portrait With..." often reveals a time when de la Paz was giving himself a writing exercise.
Often he'd compare the manuscript to the experience of an art gallery. Of the Picasso gallery with sketches along the walls, leading to the final painting. Of how the Mona Lisa's wall space had to be so carefully planned. How we have to think about the stream of experience as well as the individual poem.