Turning 60 and Other Formal Considerations.3
I decided to do another 26. Then I decided to change the rules. The next 26 would be traditional abecedarians–lines proceeding in alpha-order. They would, however, use the same 26 words as each of the “disorderlies.” This would make them mirrors, of sorts, so I decided that they should each also play some sort of riff on whatever the subject of the first poem was. And then I decided that all the L words would change with this set, just to flip things around further. So I sat down and wrote 26 new L words at the tops of 26 pages, and the initial words down the margins in order.
This had the distinct advantage of saving me from having to come up with 26 new K, Q, Y, and Z words. L is an easy one. These are the “Proper” abecedarians. I thought about making them “orderly,” but “proper” felt cheekier, so it stuck.
I’m only 9 poems into the second sequence. I know there are people who can teach and write. I can do it, too, just not at any speed. A good semester for me, writing-wise, is one that leaves me with a nice pile of chunks and notes. Thank goodness Pretty Good U is one of the few schools left that still has a shortened “Winter Session,” because it at least offers the possibility of turning the notes and chunks into poems, though it very often turns into a period of floppy recovery from Christmas and its attendant brou-ha-has. Still, they’re coming along.
There is a weird freedom the abecedarians have offered. Because they have so many rules, I’ve been able to break lots of the rules I’ve unconsciously built up over the years. Some have been openly political, some openly faith oriented. I’ve broken lines in all sorts of jangly ways in order to get to the next first word. I’ve played with all sorts of repetitions and re-statements, bumped syntax around, had a Henry-Fielding-festival of capitalization. And all my accustomed tricks seem fresh again in the context of the straight-jacket of the alphabetical absolutism.
I think they’re good. So far, no journal to whom I’ve sent them thinks so. I’m not sure how they operate out of the context of their fellows, or whether the “Disorderlies”—the ones I’ve been revising enough to send out—are just too odd. Maybe they’re stinkers. Maybe they’re what they feel like they are and are breakthrough work, even if just for me.
I have no idea what happens when they’re done. My sense is that they’ll stop—they’re a tricksy form that probably isn’t sustainable. Maybe I’ll take up the sonnet. Or pick one of my favorite books and write a parallel book in which all my poems start with the same first words, in the same order as Van Duyn’s or Snodgrass’s or Wright’s. Maybe I’ll go back to letting individual poems find me when they will, or go looking for them down both old and surprising roads. I will admit that I’m intrigued by the current fashion for redacting as a form of far. That’ll do.