Boneshepherds, my last book, was basically done in 2009. As a matter of fact, I sent the Boneshepherds manuscript to my editor in 2007 and both of us were ready to go into pre-production almost immediately. But as I went back to it, as I sent it out to folks I trust, it just didn’t feel right. So I went in and made some major revisions and it finally came out in October 2011. I’ve told myself of this story the last few years to remind myself how long it’s been since I’ve really dug down and written. Five years is a long time not to be getting to the page.
When you’re not just busy, but crazed, it can multiply the frustration if you’re not bearing down and writing. My life has been turned upside down with personal setbacks and having to move several times in very short periods and a bunch of traveling, which is a gift but also taxing in its own way. It’s just been a rough stretch.
I sat down this summer hoping to begin writing the next book in earnest. It was a different process for me. Most of my life, I made time to write almost every day and at some point in the process I would get that feeling that I was close to finishing a book, that I had accumulated enough material to at least see where I was at. I’d gather all my notebooks and stray napkins and scrawled-on receipts and book marginalia and see what poems I had and how they might coalesce, if at all, into a collection. That’s pretty much how it happened for three books–a decade of writing like that.
Starting from scratch, though, felt strange and intimidating. Like having to walk out into a very big lake in my drawers, a rubber duckie in one hand and three stones in the other. How could I even start?
Well, I moved to a new city the first week of May. I had boxes in storage. And for the first time in my life everything I owned was under one roof. I put the plates away, the books, all the little bullshit accrued from travel and two-dollar whims.
But I also unpacked boxes of notes. So many. In the years since Boneshepherds, moving from one address to the next, once in the wake of the worst NYC hurricanes in recent history, barely staying spiritually afloat after a breakup, reassessing old friendships, managing a two-hour-commute-one-way-Brooklyn-to-Camden, I realized, I actually had been writing all along. How could this be? I think, in fact, the habit was so deeply ingrained, that I scribbled on the Bolt Bus while dozing off or jotted things in between faculty meeting notes and doodles, scrawled lines on the inside covers of books I was teaching. Or maybe, I just needed to. Maybe something in the room or the rhythm of a conversation or the cadence of a sentence I read drove me to write it down–anything.
Fragment by fragment I was recording all my departures, my grief and heartbreak, my dancing, my deep studies of history. I wasn’t writing poems, but I was collecting impressions–of Brooklyn, the Philippines, floods and storms and violence and names and a ton of music. Moving to an apartment I think I’ll be at for a while and settling in quickly helped me get some invaluable silence and solitude. It allowed me to see the raw material without judgment. I could see the crevices to pry open for a little light. I’ve been revising now. And I think I have some poems. Maybe even a whole book of them. I think that would be good if I do.