Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Week 36

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

So far on this project, I have written only about the work I am doing, but of course, Ann is working hard too. She has worked through a number of different styles and projects, as I have, in order to come up with what she wants to do.

Some of the early ideas was to do pen and ink sketches to look like my narrator is keeping a notebook and writing and sketching as he goes along. Later, she made some abstract paintings. Then she thought she might illustrate what was happening in the poems.

Ultimately, each of these were unsatisfying, especially the idea that she would illustrate my poems. First, a poem is highly metaphorical and illustrating metaphor completely destroys the power of the metaphor. More importantly, however, doing so places a secondary emphasis on the art, and we wanted this to be a joint effort, two kinds of art working jointly. Each commenting and enhancing the other.

In any case, one of the media that Ann works in is printmaking, so she has been developing prints for the book. She is going to have her own vision of California water through prints. She’s had as many false starts as me, but I think this is a good final product. Here are two of her prints. I hope you love them as I do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Week 35

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.


I’m down to the last few poems here, and I feel there are just a few more things to say about the water. I know there are those who could write about it for years, make an entire career of it, but there are only a few more things for me to say.


This weekend was the 101st anniversary of the day William Mulholland opened the aqueduct to Los Angeles. He was exhausted and went to the opening ceremony to give a speech. The speech he gave was “There it is. Take it.”


It’s a strangely appropriate speech for the man to give. He had stolen the water from the farmers in the Owens Valley who had stolen it from the Native Americans who lived there before them. It summarizes for me the greed, ambition, and even strength that made Los Angeles what it was. This is a completely inappropriate place for the second largest city in the United States because of the lack of water. If people wanted to live here, that water had to be taken from someone.


Anyway, the place where the water flowed into Los Angeles is usually dry now. There are just better ways to bring it into the city. It is a large concrete sluice that comes down a dry hill with concrete divots along the way to slow the water and aerate it. The effect is a long steep rapids.


Because this was the 101st anniversary, the Department of Water and Power turned it on and invited people to look at it. I did.


What were my impressions? The energy of that much water moving is overwhelming. It is right on top of the freeway, but the dancing water drowns it out. It’s strange. The water seemed to give me energy as I stood there watching it, and afterwards my wife and I didn’t want to go home.

I don’t know what this is going to give me in terms of poetry. Maybe something about the dance that water does through the sluice. Maybe something about its noise and movement. I don’t know. It’s thrilling in its way to be standing there next to all that water moving with all that power. I suppose what’s most thrilling about it is that people have figured out how to control it. That’s beautiful and ugly at the same time.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Week 34

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

I have never approached a writing project like this before. I mean, I have never chronicled it in this way. For the last 34 weeks, I have written down the entire process, or at least what was the most interesting idea or event of that week. I always tell people that writing is a lot of work, but I don't believe that myself. I know that I spend a lot of time researching, writing, and revising, but it never feels like work because it's always so much fun. Now, I have a kind of record of what I mean when I say talk about the time and difficulty of writing.

In 34 weeks, I have written 60 useable poems. I don't know how many more I will write. Probably ten or so. It just feels like I'm winding down a bit. I didn't start writing them until about week 20 because I had to do research and to develop a theme.

I started the collection twice. I wrote something like 50 sonnet stanza altogether for those two false starts. It's become a free verse collection  now.

I've read something like 15 books, most of them donated by friends, a lot of them I got from Sean Moore, who runs Gatsby Books in Long Beach, California, my favorite bookstore. I also read all of John Muir's work and admire him less now than when I started. That was a strange twist. His views of Native American populations was a revelation to me. I know that there is much to be admired about him, but he was a human and that means he was flawed. Often, he is seen as a kind of saint of water conservation. He was that, and he was other things as well.

I've interview three water experts, learning what makes water in California so strange and magical. I live in a highly populated desert that doesn't have nearly enough water to support our population. The history of how we accomplish that is terrifying and fascinating.

I've gone to my writing group to work through these poems most weeks. My group meets in Fresno, and I live on the far side of Los Angeles. That's a 400 mile round trip each week, but they are brilliant and have moved my work to a completely new place. I'd drive twice as far to work with Bonnie Hearn Hill, Christopher Allen Poe, Hazel Dixon Cooper, Kathy Puckett, and Brenda Najimian. I've just dropped names so you can check out their books. They're brilliant.

I don't know how much work there is in the future except that I've only just started the revision process. What I have now is raw, and whatever power exists in these poems hasn't seen its full potential.

So what does all of these mean. It means that I've had a great time. None of this has really been work. At its heart, writing should be intellectual game play, and I've enjoyed every bit of this game. Next week, I suppose, I'll probably be done with the first draft completely. That would be melancholy except that I'm already working on my next project and I have a new poetry collection brewing in my head. We'll see how soon I can get to it.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Week 33

I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.

Early on in this project I had envisioned this as a modern epic poem with each of the stanzas a petrarchan sonnet. That would have been great. It would have been sort of an ancient approach to the modern, and I hoped that it would give weight to history of California that is sometimes missing. After all the history of the people who have lived here is just as grand to them as the history of the people who lived in old Greece.

Well, that didn’t work out. The mixture of the epic and the story was just wrong. Maybe I’ll do it in the future. I don’t know. What I’ve been left with is a series of modern poems that has really morphed into my history with water in California. That’s all right. That’s a good subject quite frankly. I’m enjoying it, but it doesn’t have John Muir or William Mulholland or any of those early figures of water that are so fascinating.

In some ways that’s disappointing to me. That epic I envisioned is dead for now. Also, I spent all of the spring and most of the summer developing the idea and researching. All that work for a while felt like it had gone to nothing. Of course that’s not true. I like to research, and I loved learning all those new things about California. It’s a fascination.

And now, it’s come back. I’ve started to write short stories about this time. Flash fiction. When I write fiction, I generally have a much longer story. However, these are all coming out in 500 words or so. I think they’re short because I’d been thinking of my research in terms of poems. Now they’re coming up in moments of extreme emotion.

I suppose it goes to show that any work a writer does is going to come back to him. We filter every moment through our writing and this research is absolutely no different. It is a joy, and now I’m loving these short stories the way I have loved my poetry.