Pearl Pirie’s second collection, Thirsts, is the 2011 winner of the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. It will come out with Snare in Fall 2011. Her poems have appeared in places including ditch, anthology 4 (canadian) (innovative poets), PRECIPICe, Dandelion and This Magazine. She runs the Pre-Tree Poetry Workshop series in Ottawa. Her website pearlpirie.com is a route to buy her first collection: been shed bore (Chaudiere, 2010). Pearl’s poetics are embodied even in prose, as seen in the following interview which was conducted online:
How do you work your way through revisions? Do you have any tricks or theories to removing commas, words or lines? Any special chairs or states of mind you like to work from?
I come at it a lot of ways, from sound, density and clarity and sub-text.
I have given to workshops this rubric of things to consider when editing a poem.
I also gave out this one asking people to put a personal value on different poetry values and trade with others for the cards each valued most
Sometimes I workshop a poem with others as well. Each workshop group has an aesthetic coming from different places so can spot or value different things.
For example from ones I’m in: KaDo encourages precision and discourages painterly. Poetry-W wants easy entry point clarity and universality since it’s multinational members, local references don’t always travel. Ampers&s liked density and obliqueness and for each part to be load-bearing. Omnigoths like narrative and orality. Rubies encourage flow and things to be there for purpose and encourage personal meaningfulness. from rob mclennan’s workshops there’s the bias to look for what’s interesting as in not commonly said and said as only that person could say it.
I like how the opinions and forces counter each other. The more you listen, the more informed you are to hear.
I can edit or compose anywhere. It doesn’t matter how I feel.
the slower a poem comes, the more complete it is.
the faster the poem arrives, the more substantial editing it will need. I slash it apart and down, maybe restarting with collected phrases from various poems and assembling those to see if they click to something interesting.
some poems are assembly games. some are searches for an essential and then interesting story. some are to understand the balance of the form’s potential. some are to let words think thru a rhythm.
When my brain is the clearest, the editing is fastest of course. A lot is mechanical clean up, so, what is that, editing with a wood chipper or zamboni?
I don’t have any particular loyalty to a poem as if it has one essential self. it has none to me and I have no core self. Or if either does, it’s more an impediment to try to cater to it instead of exploring and testing out other things.
Robert Lowell wrote that “Revision is inspiration.” To what extent do you think that’s true? How would you rewrite Lowell: “Revision is __________”
Revision is the interesting part.
Ideas are anywhere. First drafts aren’t hard. At the point of finishing and the game is over. Hearing what people thought after it is printed isn’t actionable. The writing stage might be past. The real event is in the tumble of seeing all the possibilities for the sounds and ideas.
Do you feel any difference or make any distinction between editing a single poem all by its lonesome and editing a series of poems for a collection?
its a different scale. each sound and rhythm and connotation can carry its own weight in a line. if you edit a line to make it tight and fit and bounce off the others, the same process works for the one poem against another. it’s energy ping ponging around. the more balls there are, the more complex it gets.
Do you have any pet peeves when it comes to editing your own work or someone else’s?
nope but pet interests are looking at the assumptions of how the world works suggested by the poem.
Are there any lines from an early draft of a poem that you’d like to share? What ideas, principles or gut feelings guided you through those changes?
Here’s two versions, the first draft is:
some bend at the waist and dash
the one man walks boldly, slowly
as if it were sunny midday. he can’t
get any wetter perhaps, or
perhaps enjoys the pelting
of rain-snow, the 50 km/h gusts
at his back which make his jean
cuffs billow like toy sailboats.
the traffic lights bounce, swing.
at intersections, cars nose ahead
hesitant about where that bang came from.
plastic sheets lose their homes
ghost across the yellow lines.
block after last the street lamps
look like shower heads pouring.
no stars, no sky except what comes
to meet us. see the awnings pick
at their skirts, nervously rock, threaten
to take off end for end like umbrellas
down the blackened street to the river,
its white caps lost to the dark
choppy beats, its stones grinding
on each other like teeth.
I really disliked the bagginess and the personification of the store’s awnings. It had some things I liked and some phrases I liked. I liked how it was grounded with the focus on one person responding differently to the storm. I wanted to elaborate more on relationships and attitudes and ambiance.
I did a live poem edit here with all my thinking about the changes, weaknesses and strengths made explicit for a later version:
since then it’s become this (and time will see how much editing more it will get)
jackets bend at the waist, dash
winter boughs swing. an umbrella’s ribs
point up to the tree limbs, is abandoned
with curses, and a primate’s stomp. so alive,
such lush frustration and me up here, dry.
the traffic lights creak, pontiacs snuffle
into night’s cracks. we’re high-rise gods
watch uninvolved the plastic sheets
who have lost their homes
ghost across yellow lines, seek
some ocean, to be jellyfish, whale.
streetlights stream like shower heads.
from a balcony a folding chair commits
an 8-story leap. a crash of what?
the depths of sounds, a concrete forest
with breaking as bird calls.
palms press this aquarium glass.
small figures in the sky’s slush
rush. a vestigial self-definition, gods,
frogs on land calling themselves tadpoles.
and one man strides, bold as sunny midday.
he can’t get wetter, perhaps, or perhaps
he enjoys sixty kilometre gusts
at his peacoat, how his jean cuffs billow
slapping here, now, here, now, here,
there, dark in dark flips end-for-end
down the blackened street
to the river where the unnameable
waves, where the white caps
where its choppy beats where stones
are grinding griefs like teeth.
It is more painterly I think and there might be a waggling finger about use of plastic bags that might take people out of the poem but I like how it introduces sympathy for objects while a jacket becomes a synecdoche for people and there’s no empathy for the silly monkey human with busted umbrella. The umbrella gestures to the sky but the human just stomps, short-sighted.
It’s got an intellectual disconnect with the ruminating compared to the more direct description of the first, but the later version is also richer and has more flow of a different kind to it.
I like the sound and ideas better than the first and the more explicitness between where the viewer is relative to the view. It goes out too wide perhaps. The ending seems pat in a way but maybe I’ve just read the thing too often. That’s the advantage of new eyes on a piece in workshops and among peers.