My Writing Process Blog Tour:  Julie L. Moore

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by Ed Davis on August 18, 2014

The following is a guest post from writer Julie L. Moore, continuing the Writing Process blog tour.

Many thanks to Ed Davis for inviting me to participate in this tour of my writing process, initiated by James Tate Hill, at North Carolina A&T State University. Since I don’t have a blog myself, I’m grateful for his willingness to host my answers here as well.

1) What are you working on?

Since my second full-length book of poetry Particular Scandals came out in 2013, I’ve embarked on some new projects. First is simply pulling together the poems I’ve written over the last five years or so into a new collection. I need time and space in which to do such work, however, so I’m hoping this year to accomplish that. I have no working title yet, but the poems are tied to the kinds of metaphysical contemplations and an abiding sense of place—rural, southwestern Ohio where I live—characteristic of my first two books. Yet, these poems also go in new directions and include ekphrastic, persona, and even political poems I’ve felt compelled to write. I’m not sure yet how, or even if, they’ll all fit together, but I look forward to the process of organizing a new manuscript.

I also have a great interest in our national parks and have a goal to write a book of poems in response to those parks. Some of my previous poems, such as “Mako Sica” and “What is Given” in Slipping Out of Bloom and “Clifton Gorge” and “Sightseeing” in Particular Scandals, which were inspired by Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, and Bad Lands National Parks as well as a local state park serve as the inspiration for this idea.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre? 

I’m interested in paradox. I’m interested in crossing borders and merging boundaries. For instance, I think most poets tend to be either lyric or narrative poets, either poets writing with the I prominent in their work or the I lurking in the shadows of the pages. Nearly every poem I wrote in my first two books was written in first person, but equal amounts of lyric and narrative poems exist. I’m now experimenting with perspective in persona poems and writing an entire series of poems in third person as well, even though the poems stem from autobiographical experiences. I’m intentionally trying to break, or blend, the binary between lyric and narrative—can a poem be both? Can I distill the essence of an emotion amid story? Can I break down story into an emotion’s essence?

In addition, I’m both a contemplative poet, reflecting upon God and his all-too-prevalent silence (which some interpret as his complete nonexistence, I realize), and an incarnational poet, embracing the flesh-and-bones of our earthly existence. I’m not so much interested in transcendence as I am in endurance. So although I will detail my own or others’ suffering, I will not wallow in it. But I also refuse to denigrate the physicality of our existence through some kind of gnostic poetic gospel, as if what’s really real is only what’s immaterial. I keep thinking we have to embrace the woes in order to find truth and beauty and goodness, indeed, to learn—and practice—compassion and love. And I write a lot about our natural environment for these reasons, too—not to transcend but to endure, as best as we are able.

I do not believe I’m the only poet trying to do these things, so I’m not sure these aims set me apart so much as define what I’m trying to do. I’m probably not that original!

3) Why do you write what you do?

On the one hand, I’m a wild Romantic, who really does believe truth is beauty and beauty is truth. And I think art celebrates this union like nothing else, except the Grand Teton Mountains or the first snow or the tulip’s tender bloom. So for me, I write poetry because I could never endure all this life’s chaos, pain, and yes, existential angst without trying to capture that truth and beauty in language. I suppose if I’d been gifted in other art forms, I’d be pursuing this goal by playing in an orchestra or painting acrylics. But alas, although I had seven years of piano lessons as a kid and can still play sonatinas, I’m just not that good at it. And I can only draw stick figures, so fine art never was an option!

But it’s more than that, of course. I really do believe that despite language’s many limitations, we really can communicate—and communicate beautifully, at times—through words. I have a friend who often exclaims, “There are no words!” when she hears about something appalling. It’s a contagious slogan, not to mention humorous, but you know what? She’s using four words! So there are words. There are always words. And sometimes, words, even if just in thoughts, are all we may have. When I witness atrocity or beauty, when I experience pain or great joy, even when I feel silenced in certain situations, words are what I cling to. I can always write, even if it’s just in my head. (And yes, writing can likewise be subversive!)

4) How does your writing process work?

I am one of those writers who cannot, for anything, sit in front of a blank piece of paper or computer screen and come up with an original idea. Instead, these ideas come to me in the midst of usually tactile experiences: I’m washing dishes, or mopping the floor, or mowing the lawn, or pulling weeds, or often, taking my daily, 3-mile walk, when an image or a line or a question simply will enter my thoughts. And when it doesn’t let go—when it becomes what poet Cathy Smith Bowers calls an “abiding image”—I know I’m hooked. I know I must write it down. And once I write down the initial image or line or question, I push myself to go beyond it. That is the hard part—pushing myself into unknown territory. That’s when I have to let my intuition lead me to whatever is going to come next. I have to let go of everything I think I know—everything that seems certain—and enter that Keatsian territory of negative capability. I’ll have no idea what I’m doing, what I’m writing, where I’m going with it; I just write until I experience some kind of “ah ha!” moment. Then and only then do I start to think about it as becoming a poem. Many, many revisions follow. With lots of deletions to tighten lines and eliminate everything that’s superfluous. And sometimes, the initial discovery or surprise gets lost, and I abandon the poem for a while—or forever. And sometimes, the initial discovery or surprise expands and morphs into another discovery, another surprise, another abiding image. So then I just keep going.

I don’t think much about form until I feel as though what the poem needs to say is said. But then I revise quite a bit for the sake of form and music. I work a lot on music in language, trying dozens of different word choices for each line. And that sometimes makes a mess. Sometimes, I get lost in it all. And things change for the worse. So I go back to previous drafts or word choices. Or I start again.

It’s a recursive process—generating ideas as I likewise revise and edit. And I try to listen to the poem, what it wants to say, how it wants to be shaped. I love the stage when I’m working on form, even though I write mostly in free verse. Form is still really important. Lineation, line movement, enjambment, these are all such important tools to me as well.

And when I feel the poem is finished, I know it’s time to get a fresh pair of eyes to look at it because if I’m in love with it, I know I’m missing something! So then I often ask my son, who’s now in college, to take a look. He’s a close and insightful reader and usually pinpoints things I’m overlooking like dangling modifiers or especially, something jarring or completely unmusical. So I go back to work. Then I show poet-friends or go to a workshop or take my chances, and send it out somewhere for publication, depending on my confidence in the work at that point.

The writing process is a mess. And it takes me a long time. When my most recent book came out in 2013, a couple of people, who shall not be named, mistakenly thought the poems in the book had all been written the year before. And I realized how little readers know about the writing process! A huge part of the process is time. Revising time. Waiting time. I can’t tell you how many poems I wait on. I know they’re not ready. They need time to ripen on the vine. They sit for months, sometimes years. And then: I go back to work on them. And when I’m lucky, they finally come together. So for instance, all the poems in Particular Scandals were written between 2005-2009. So it also takes time to put a manuscript together and find a publisher, too. Time. A heckuva lot of time!

* * *

I didn’t tag any other writers because a) this is appearing on Ed’s blog, not mine and b) I don’t know any other poets who blog! That sounds crazy, I know, because I do know quite a few poets, but they’re just not bloggers themselves.

Post image by Angie Garrett and made available under an Attribution 2.0 Generic License.)

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