Minotaurs, Writing advice from Mervyn & the GoodCop/BadCop routine – #editing #lettersfromladyn

The Minotaur was shut up in the labyrinth, a vast area with many corridors and passages, in which anyone who entered got lost, because it was impossible to find the exit. (Greek Mythology, Marilena Carabatea)

Sometimes editing can feel like that, I think. The minotaur (not the Greek myth) that moves through the work in ‘Night Divers’ is a conversation with a creation/a riff of Mervyn Sweet, a friend of mine whom I had met through the QUB Creative Writing Masters.

His minotaur, as I experienced it, represented the beauty, the strength, the contrary straight-to-blunt-talking worth of spending time with creatures who have been designated to dark places who appear in this bad light, bad eyesight also a factor, to throw shadows of monster heads in vast hotel corridors and then on closer inspection you realise you recognise that face…

His minotaur (released from the labyrinth) had a tendency to turn up unexpectedly – maybe will again, always delighting on being in daylight and asking me a question, which I have now come back to explore much more thoroughly, about the quality of conversation that can be had in the deeper layers of the realm of the, for want of a better word, beast.

That meeting point of truth and beauty that is experienced as relief – release even – though it might not be what people are hoping you are going to say and, maybe, lacking in the nice poetic arts. This is the kind of editing that can capture a person for a long time, wandering with only a thin line for company, not with murder in mind, just an exercise in courage.

Sunday morning sermons with Mervyn

This is what a friend of mine called our regular meet-ups when we had the time for it after the QUB Creative Writing MA ended. We met, shared work – I expect I did a lot of the talking. I loved Mervyn’s work, still do – I run quite a few of his riffs in my head often. And a good share of his, for want of a better word, pre-occupations – not just the minotaur – got into me. There wasn’t any sermonising.

It’s just that what Mervyn said generally met my ears as solid good sense and I always came away feeling the world was back on its right axis after meeting him in the way I think a lot of writers feel when they meet up with kindred spirits and have the writing chat. It was a kind of sustenance through the non-writing week, and I miss it very much.  Some of the conversations, not so much altered, as made me much clearer about my own writing preoccupations.

More general writing things I often remind myself of and tend to attribute to ‘a friend’ when I repeat them are, as follows:

(1) Even if a bit of writing doesn’t work out, you don’t know what gateway it might be to something else. No writing is wasted (but, just to be clear, it mightn’t be going anywhere either).

(2) Editing is as exciting as the first write – because in the process of editing you tend to actually find out what you are writing about.

(3) Atrocious things are no subject for ‘good poetry’ (ie who wants to be saying ‘wow what a perfect sestina’ when they are reading about the depths of human – or other – suffering – write the perfect sestina if you can/must but don’t expect me (ie Olive) to be congratulating you on your craft on the occasion.)

(4) My personal favourite – more life commentary than advice which came from my first introduction, as it were, to the man himself and contibuted in spades to my liking him a lot –

It’s doing it, getting out into the deep water and staying there
Right up to where the sharks tear your b*&^cks off
And what’s worse, you have to thank them for doing so.

(* Edited – Very sad not to be able to ask permission to use this – but hoping it’s okay).

The Good Cop, Bad Cop Routine

“Usually two different cops do that”

Or on being Theseus and the Minotaur at the same time when approaching your writing…

Or otherwise, I’m thinking of adding a category for film clips that run in my head as a response to writing questions (that are also for the most part in my head – hence this blog).

A useful blog by author Jan Carson on editing (find HERE) reminded me of how much I love the ‘Bad Cop, Good Cop’ scene in Steve Martin’s ‘Pink Panther’ – I am laughing still and what I’m laughing about is that this is sort of how it is in my world when it comes to getting to the bottom of who’s at fault for what’s not working.

Why edit? #KnowingtheDance

Who can know the dancer from the dance? (Among School Children, WB Yeats)

The ‘Knowing the Dance’ project has taken quantam leaps (as it were) this past couple of months and I am stockpiling blog post ideas to share and document what has been happening. Before I start, because this project from the perspective of my own poetry writing practice is one of an expanded understanding of where and how the breadth and body are located within the poems in order to make better decisions when writing, I wanted to talk a bit about editing.

Accentuate the positive

Poems are never finished, just abandoned Paul Valery

This post is prompted by a 7 hour edit (examination, exploration are possibly more biddable words) with two others using breath, mark-making and movement, of three lines of a fifteen year old, previously published poem of mine – which gave me an insight into what was/wasn’t working – but also about the situation I was writing about itself. To terrifying, but in a good way, effect.

…And then a slew of conversations with those enthusiastic to write but slower to engage in a ‘robust’ (my word of the week) editing process.

For me, poetry writing has two big hits of delight. First, the magical, mystical, inspiration-driven, breathtaking first write, and then the slower relationship building, discovering, exploring and generally getting to know better what had caught my attention so mesmerisingly in the first write (the second delight is a gift that keeps on giving) with a view to sharing this in the clearest way that I can – and that means, for me, understanding as well as I can the full world of poetry (‘what is poetry’ who can say but yet we still seek to understand). To not engage fully with this second bit, is to miss some of the most exciting parts of the whole process. And the second bit is, my opinion, companiable and where I certainly have found met some of my best friends.

Eliminate the Negative

As an aside, before going further I need to show my hand and say I adore the whole world of poetry and editing is, for me, one of the most engaging, intuitive, extending parts. I can be a bit vehement on one particular subject of it – and I am thrilled to have found and be able to channel Meryl from a scene from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’  (a film which I otherwise don’t like at all except for Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci being in it) which I wish I could recite off by heart in response to those who think the the wider context of poetry has nothing to do with their writing…


Mess with Mister Inbetween

And so it is, that editing for me is a kind of enthusiastic, intuitive, reflective, often inspiration-driven-but-in-a-quieter-way, process with company in mind. Sort of a mix of dressing for the beloved, while making selections which may, if I am lucky, also provoke admiration from those quicker, or in a position, to judge.

In terms of my own poetry development, the ‘Knowing the Dance’ project has come, in part (not entirely) from seeing a lot of natural movement occuring in my poetry and wanting to know more about the meeting place between movement and poetry so that I have a toolkit of sorts to really examine the moving parts of it so that I can comunicate it with better effect for both me and the reader/hearer. A new way of editing that is very exciting to me.

I am hoping to share some of this one way or another, and hoping that might be useful to you as well.

Knowing the Dance

‘Knowing the Dance’ is a yearlong project exploring the meeting place between movement/dance and poetry and is supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Artist Career Enhancement Scheme (ACES). Looking at movement in the work for the purposes of editing is just one aspect of the project – I am currently working on a body of poems, and a dance/poetry collaboration performance (first performance to take place early September 17) among other things.