Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Digging in the Toolbox of Genre

            Today is the thirty-sixth day of my life as a daily blogger. It’s been a lot of fun so far, and I haven’t missed a post, with only minimal cheating. (When a journal rejects an essay I’ve written, it goes straight to the blog, and I reward myself with a day off from writing for public consumption. Ain’t nobody got time for rejection.)
            There is a time most mornings, shortly after waking, when I try to think of a subject. My blog posts—I consider them essays—are typically about the writing life, but these entries are interspersed with pieces about body image or family or anything else that commands my attention on a given day. The common denominator is my consciousness. Since the essays are a product of my thinking and they are written in my voice, I suspect they end up feeling unified.
            Despite my openness to subject matter for my blog posts, not every topic is fair game. Sometimes an idea I have in mind can feel as though it is intended to be a poem, and if I write an essay about it, I lose the chance to ruminate and make a different kind of sense of the topic—a poetic sense. The logic of a poem, or at least of my poems, is markedly different from the logic of an essay. For me, one of those forms, the poem, dwells in and embraces mystery, while the other tries to figure things out and make sense of the world. I can’t make sense of a subject and then return to it with any hope of dwelling in mystery. Mystery solved, Nancy Drew—and I’m on to the next case.
            Since I’ve become a blogger, it’s been a challenge to think of both an essay topic and a poem topic each day, and it’s important to me to keep working in both genres on a daily basis. I went for a long time—years—without writing poems at all, and I do fear that if a day goes by and I don’t try my hand at poetry, one day could stretch into two, and then a week, a month, a decade. It has happened.
            I suppose I could economize by writing a poem and then using that topic for an essay, but that doesn’t feel right for me, either. Sometimes a day’s poem ends up in a blog post (and it’s a habit I’m trying to curb—I can’t very well publish a poem in a journal if I’ve included it on my blog). When this happens, though, I’m typically going at a topic from a wider angle, and the poem can serve as an illustration or elaboration of a point. The poem is incidental in the blog post, and is a way of adding interest or color, or even of breaking up thick chunks of text.
            So one part of each of my days is devoted to thinking and sorting and solving a problem in essay form, and another part is devoted to sitting amid the chaos and mess of a poem. Maybe I should take up fiction, which, from the outside, seems to involve just making stuff up.
As a matter of fact, the fiction writers I know and like best sort of revel in the making-stuff-up element of composing—they ask questions like, “What would happen if I added X or Y or Z?” Or “What would happen if this character suddenly did A or B or C?” I suspect fiction writers have a lot more fun than poets or essayists do, as a result of the control element and the sense of play. Poems and essays deal with real things—they deal, mostly, with me. Fiction is a sandbox, where you are permitted to create anything that you can get to hold together. And it’s probably no accident that fiction is what I most enjoy reading in my free time.
If we look at writing as a fix-it project and genre as a toolbox, essays are something like a wrench that can disassemble things and then put them together, cleaner and tighter. Poetry is one of those razor-sharp scrapers that can get up under a thing and reveal what’s beneath it, or detach it so that it can be turned in the hand. Fiction, though, is a rubber clown nose that has somehow made its way to the toolbox, and you pick it up and put it on and wonder what kind of trouble a guy in a rubber clown nose can get into. You forget about the stuff that requires repair, dump the toolbox, and set off on an adventure.

I suppose I should wrap this up now. It’s nearly midday and I haven’t dwelled in any mystery yet. There are great problems and puzzles and messes all around me, and they’re not likely to sort themselves out. Or I could jump into that tiny car that just pulled up in the drive, a dozen people in rainbow wigs waving me in. I’ve never really considered taking a trip like that, but it looks like it might be fun.


  1. I love, love, LOVE this! writer?Fiction writer? Me? Not so's you'd notice. But I do love the wide-open possibilities! Thanks for this ESSAY, Karen Craigo.