I have a work-in-progress. Fiction. Working title: Found Things. Closing in on 100,000 words, so by volume, I guess it’s a novel. Or would be if I could stop rewriting draft after draft and finish it. I began work on it a month or so after finishing my first novel—in 2001. Nine years and counting. My last run at it was going pretty well, but I wanted to get back to poetry. I would start to write and find myself scribbling out notes for poems. The notes began to turn into poems Sometime in November I put the novel aside. Have written almost 100 new poems since—and happy for it. How could I not be? Never been so productive in my life. But I can’t say I’ve stopped looking back, stopped thinking about the unfinished novel.
It’s more than leaving something undone. I’ve abandoned cartloads of stories and poems without a moment’s regret. This is different. it tugs at me, nags; I go to sleep thinking about it and wake up ready to to dive back into it. Then I write another poem, and realize that, as much as I’d like to resolve this, I don’t want to put the poetry aside.
A few days ago I realized that if and when I did get back to it, I would have to do a major revision, right from the beginning. The main character is way too passive. I’ve been holding something back, I thought. As though I was courting sympathy on his behalf, as though I wanted readers to like him! This was a deeply satisfying idea—to make him driven (he already is, but so far, with no clear object or motive). Driven, manipulative, self deceived.
Now I’m thinking that’s still not enough. Yes, I want to finish it. No, I don’t want to write a ‘novel.’
I really don’t.
Not anymore. Not the sort of novel this keeps turning into. And playing with the characters isn’t going to change that.
Why not write it over. As poetry? Something no less radical.
It's how it began
There are chapters now that read like conventional short fiction. I meant them to stand in contrast to their surrounding context. They do, but the difference is not stark enough. The contrasts are superficial, stylistic, fail to penetrate to the level of language itself, fail to push at the boundaries of poetry and prose. most disturbing of all, fail to challenge the hegemonic authority of narrative, its power to harness every other element--space and time itself--to the task of fulfilling the mimetic desires of the reader.
What is the pleasure—or the point—of limiting our efforts to what we know we can do?