Poetry and suspense: more twists

I’m almost always suffering some dire form of suspense and trying to ignore it. Long publishing cycles are a large part of that–I have many mss out there and the odds of success don’t favor me. Often I can receive a rejection with a philosophical shrug, or go for weeks without thinking about a particular submission. On a rational level, I know it’s not personal, and it’s not helpful or healthy to get revved up over such extended, uncertain processes. But I am not rational every hour of every day. Ahem.

Because I spend so much effort trying to calm the hell down, it’s funny to realize I like suspense. In all forms of writing, it helps keep readers on the line. In novels and Netflix, I crave a zippy plot–strong characters in some condition of risk, to which events and feelings keep happening, unpredictably. In poems, I love that gasp-inducing opener that keeps you suspended, sometimes with a plot question (what’s going to happen?) and sometimes with another kind of problem, an image that begs unraveling or a pattern that needs resolution.

I started writing about poetry and suspense four years ago, for a book ms I spent a few years finishing and revising and am still in suspense about. I just reworked that material for a craft talk I’m giving Tuesday for the brand-new Randolph MFA in Creative Writing, at which I’ll be a visiting professor (seriously, click on that link and check out their regular faculty–Gary Dop is doing an amazing job). I hope to revise it again after this week’s adventures and send it out as an essay. In the process, I dug up a related blog from 2014, and it’s fascinating to see what I was in suspense about then: a ms, of course (it became Radioland), and a bad situation at work (which got worse before it got better, but is vastly improved now).

The latter involved a sickening rather than interesting variety of suspense, but a little suspense in life, as in art, can be good. I’m in many ways in a lucky situation, but I don’t want my life to be exactly the same or completely predictable for the next twenty years.  That’s partly why I drafted a novel a couple of years ago, to try something new and see where it took me. I revised it heavily this spring–not for the first time!–and it’s now with a second reader at a small press I greatly admire. I’m in suspense about it, but the reader is expecting twins soon, so she’s in rather more suspense than I am. I need to cool my jets. It’s not easy.

In the meantime, for partial closure, I’ll end where this week began–a long weekend with my spouse in Portland, Maine, for an early celebration of our 25th anniversary (on the actual date, we’ll be visiting colleges with our son, a rising senior in high school). That city deserves its foodie rep–we ate REALLY well, drank great beer, and walked 5-6 miles every day to balance it out. There’s a picture below from the room where Longfellow wrote “The Rainy Day,” on a rainy day, although otherwise the weather was beautiful. I particularly liked taking the ferry to Peaks Island and then biking around the perimeter. On one rocky beach, as the tide rose, we watched a mama duck lead eight ducklings up boulders they could barely scale. All eight eventually reached safety, but it was a nail-biter. We were mostly successful in ducking suspense of other kinds for the duration of the trip, but watching the repercussions from that insane Helsinki summit did ratchet up our nerves. Here’s hoping I revisit this blog in another few years, after some blue elections and writing success, and marvel how it all turned out.

6 thoughts on “Poetry and suspense: more twists

  1. Every bit of this. Then there are those odd times when I can hold certain submissions at a distance, and not think of them. Those are the rejections that seem to bother me the most. The indication that I’m trying too hard to forget them might equal how badly I want that publication? Anyway, I’m glad to hear about the ducklings!

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  2. Happy 25th anniversary! I, too, enjoy Portland, ME’s dining options. Have you visited the Longfellow house? We had a great docent when we were there and learned a lot (it helped that the friend I went on the tour with has a “need-to-know” passion and asked cool questions). Anyway, staying on tenterhooks gets stressful, but surprises and twists can be terrific…you’ll get some good outcomes, I’m sure!

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