The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.
Please meet LPR veteran and award-winning poet, Greg Luce. Greg’s work first appeared in our Water issue, a poem entitled “A Decent Happiness”, and was among the first contributors who explored their craft in this series started by Ilse Munro over three years ago. We recently published another one of Greg’s poems, “Failing to Sleep,” (click link for text) in our Summer 2014 issue, and I decided to seize upon a unique opportunity – to return to one of our contributors to explore not just their approach to their craft in the present moment, but to observe an evolution in technique and aesthetic. So without further delay, Greg Luce:
“Failing to Sleep” combines two of my favorite themes (some might say obsessions): insomnia and birds. Those who remember my poem “A decent happiness,” published in the Water issue in January 2011, and the accompanying craft essay that I wrote shortly thereafter, will note some significant differences in the style and treatment of content.
I wrote “A decent happiness” many years ago, long before it found its home in LPR. As I described my process in my earlier essay, at that time I was intensely concerned with concision and brevity, suggestiveness rather than explicit statement. That poem showed the strong influence of W.C. Williams and Robert Creeley in particular. “Failing to Sleep” is a rather more recent poem and reflects my desire to loosen up my approach and try some new things in my writing.
While I did not and do not disavow my earlier work or the continuing importance of Creeley, Williams, and others for me as a reader and writer of poetry, I was beginning to grow bored with what I was able to write within the guidelines I had set for myself. I felt that I could write the short, intense poems like “A decent happiness” pretty easily but I was in danger of becoming too facile. In short, I was in a bit of a creative rut.
One element I was especially desirous of incorporating into some of my poems was narrative, tell a bit of a story rather than just describe a scene or an emotional experience. I had always admired Frank O’Hara’s work, especially his deceptively simple-seeming accumulation of events and details culminating in a humorous or moving epiphany, such as in “The Day Lady Died” (a great favorite of mine). So I began writing poems that told little stories, mostly drawn from my own experiences, though a few of them are fictions that synthesize various observations of and reactions to people, places, and situations I encounter.
“Failing to Sleep” is an example of this new direction. It describes a typical night-into-early-morning in which I drift in and out of sleep, the various thoughts, feelings, and images that run through my mind as I drift in and out of sleep, and wake up too early with birdsong in my ears. A new craft element in this piece is the attempt to render a few of the songs that arise in the speaker’s thoughts and capture his attention when morning finally arrives. On the other hand, a carry-over from earlier practice is my use of linebreaks (and fairly short lines) as a formal element in the absence of fixed meter or rhyme; in the case of this poem my intention was to impel the reader forward almost headlong and keep up a steady if not exactly fast pace. To further push the pacing, em-dashes provide one slight pause midway through, but otherwise there is no punctuation until the closing period. This sparing use of punctuation is another part of my practice that has been fairly constant from my earliest work until today.
As in my earlier reflections, I must mention the readers who read all my poems prior to my launching them into the world and without whose feedback I would have been far less successful in publishing. Foremost among them as always is Naomi Thiers, who has also published poems and a craft essay in LPR and whose keen eye and ear never fail to discern potential improvements. I would also like to thank Laura Shovan, LPR’s eminent poetry editor who made a couple of very useful suggestions before accepting this poem, just as she did for past submissions. Such incisive editing, along with this opportunity again to write a few notes on my approach to craft, are among the reasons why it is such a profound pleasure and honor to be counted among the LPR community.
Gregory Luce, author of Signs of Small Grace (Pudding House Publications), Drinking Weather (Finishing Line Press), and Memory and Desire (Sweatshoppe Publications), has published widely in print and online. He is the 2014 Larry Neal Award winner for adult poetry, given by the Arts and Humanities Council in Washington, D.C., where he lives and works for the National Geographic Society. He blogs at http://enchiladasblog.blogspot.com.