One of the most challenging lessons I’ve had to learn is to be patient and present through the different cycles of my art. There is the pleasure of the idea, the joy of the seed of the poem or the song, a gushing outpouring knitting of something where nothing once was.
The first pause/breath comes almost immediately. It’s the most difficult breath to take, but the most important: put the new thing away. Don’t fiddle with it, don’t tweak, don’t touch. It needs to settle into itself. And the artist needs to fall a little out of love, release the rush.
After waiting as long as possible, it comes time to edit. This part of the process can last and last; sometimes it never ends. The work is coldly, ruthlessly examined, structured, pieced together and apart.
Sometimes this stage unfolds to a kind of first showing. This means either giving the work over to another trusted eye, or many trusted eyes, or reading the work aloud in front for an audience. Feeling others’ responses, and feeling the work in the body in real time–that’s an essential stage in the editing process for work that’s meant to be performed. Here the artist can feel any errors as she speaks, stands, breathes.
Then comes a return to the editing stage, wash/rinse/repeat.
Finally, the work is finished enough to share on a regular basis, to publish, or to memorize. Often a final layer of fluff falls away here, in the line the artist decides to skip onstage, the stanza an editor requests cut, or the image that proves impossible to commit to memory, because it doesn’t belong in the poem.
When I’ve done this enough times, I come to a place where I can exist as a performer again. I have a new body of work to bring through the world to me, enough to share over and over again without exhausting or frustrating myself.
Finishing this book after years of work and study, I finally feel myself ready to share again. I can stand on a stage and tell you what I’ve been dreaming and building all along…