The Boss Discovers a Gem of a Poem: Late Fragment, by Raymond Carver

“Curiouser and curiouser.”

The Boss Discovers a Gem of a Poem: Late Fragment, by Raymond Carver

Nope. Not about Springsteen. But imagine if it was? Bruce, if you’re out there and if you dislodge a poetical masterpiece (somewhat east of Glory Days) from the dregs of time, please share it with the world. Cuz that would be solid.

No but today, my boss sent me this gem* as she stumbled upon it whilst (or while, if you must not be cockney) conducting an unrelated poem search. Too much back story. Here it is:

LATE FRAGMENT
By Raymond Carver

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Rumor has it (Rumor has it!) that this was Carver’s last writing. If you were to write just one last poem, what would it be? If you were to go out tomorrow but not know today but still somehow have the wherewithal to know, this is your last. What would you write? Would it be dark or joyful? Reminiscent or life-affirming or mad? Would you take it with you?

Why does Carver call his last words a fragment? Did he mean to go on? Is this only an excerpt of what Carver meant to be his unabridged last poem? Did he take that part with him? I like to think that.

Here is today’s literature know-how: Raymond Carver and John Cheever are not the same person. Though apparently, they were drinking buddies on several occasions. I say prove it! Show me the picture where the two men are linked arm in arm at the bar. Show me where their FB Timelines intersect.

From NYT, by Stephen King, Nov. 19, 2009

And until mid-1977, Raymond Carver was out of control. While teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he and John Cheever became drinking buddies. “He and I did nothing but drink,” Carver said of the fall semester of 1973. “I don’t think either of us ever took the covers off our typewriters.” Because Cheever had no car, Carver provided transportation on their twice-weekly booze runs. They liked to arrive at the liquor store just as the clerk was unlocking for the day. Cheever noted in his journal that Carver was “a very kind man.” He was also an irresponsible boozehound who habitually ran out on the check in restaurants, even though he must have known it was the waitress who had to pay the bill for such dine-and-dash customers. His wife, after all, often waited tables to support him.

If King can testify to it, I’m in.

It’s good to have writing buddies, and drinking buddies, and buddies who do both separately but never the twain shall meet. Writing can be a tainted virtue. Have faith and, if you don’t have your own Cheever to procrastinate with… well maybe you’re already one great step past them in your creativity! Right on.

Cheever, Carver, Tomato, Cathedral, let’s call the whole thing off.

LW

*Thanks to DN for the fragment.

Are your characters your own? (Writing Tip No. 5)

What happens to a dream deferred?

Son of a bitch, Langston, how the hell should I know? My whole life has been about pursuing the ever-elusive literary peach. I think that in recent months I have actually crawled much closer to the answer than ever before. But that still leaves me wilting here, contemplating inspirations. I’ve been writing like a freshly born madman for weeks. Some of it has been solid but most of it has been, um, not. I figure that’s okay because it is better to have written and lost than to not have written at all. Can I share a secret with you?

Yesterday, as my fingers were tapping away at some nonsensical jargon, I happened upon a new character. He just popped up unawares, completely out of the blue. He said, “Oh hello, I am in your story now.” What could I do but welcome him with open arms? Sometimes, as writers, we really have no choice in the matter. At any rate, he seems to be a nice man. He is an artist. He’s not well known and I doubt he ever will be but he has passion and he has style and (let’s not hold this against him, please!) he is French.

His name is Gustav Plonchet and if you steal him from me I swear I will hunt you down and I will murder your entire hard drive while you are sleeping! But here is the funny thing… I know very little of the art world. Truth be told, I wish I knew much more. But as I was writing this scene and Gustav, an amateur painter on the rise, forced himself upon me from virtually out of nowhere (as far as I could ascertain), I let him introduce himself for a bit before something inside me said, “What kind of a name is this?” I knew that he was 100% a figment of my imagination but his moniker sounded real. I actually believed that such a man could exist. His name, to me, sounded as if he was familiar, as if I may have met him on the street 8 or 15 years prior. Naturally, I had to Google him.

No!!

Listen – This is wrong. The rest of this story is extremely coherent and circumstantial. I regret not the fact that I took some time to research my own imaginary character; what I do regret, however, is that I took the time to research him mid-flow. I tweeted about this recently when I was busy thinking unrelated thoughts: Writing is hard. Distractions are easy. Make like a hard-at-work poet and re-verse it.

In a nutshell, don’t get distracted! No matter what! This is such hard advice to follow. Look at me! I’m proof. I am as addicted to the internerd as the next person. In everyday life, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. But while you are writing, you should remain, as much as you possibly can, completely and utterly within yourself. Let your story and your characters be your guide. If, by some chance, you feel an irresistible urge to jump on the world wide whatever and go star gazing for nonsense, stow it away for some other day. It’s only going to lead you astray.

You understand.

What is the moral of the story? Here it is: Right smack in the middle of my scene, just after I had introduced this new character I called Gustav Plochet—I had given him a face and a height and a mustache and a few other idiosyncrasies—I decided to put down my pen (ie. minimize MS Word) and, just for shits and giggles, Google him. My train of thought was broken, the scene was broken, and I was taken out of it. In those regards, all was awry. HOWEVER… as it turns out, when I googled “Gustav Plonchet” the aliens in the machine asked me if I meant “Gustave Planche?” Ok, sure why not? So I clicked on that dude’s name and lo and effing behold… guess what? Jean Baptiste Gustave Planche was a literary and art critic in France during the early 19th century. Of course this is absolutely fascinating to me and I have to find out as much about this guy as I possibly can so I can inject part of him into my character. But as I’m doing this, as I’m learning about the real Jean Baptiste Gustave Planche, more and more time is going by and I’m starting to veer further and further away from whoever my own Gustav Plonchet was supposed to be! And the longer I am away from my story, the more I am learning about history—which is good! but not good for storytelling.

All good sense aside though, how cool is it that my Gustav is almost a real dude from like… history? Ha! Anyway, I thought that was pretty righteous. Who knows if, on some level, I knew that and my brain pulled it up as I was just type type typing away. Does it matter? I guess the point is that since all this happened, I have yet to go back to that scene. And that’s partially because I’m afraid that the real Gustave Planche may become my Gustav Plonchet. And is that ok? It’s kind of a mindfuck.

Long story short: save the internerd for the after party.

Write now. Write well. Write on.

-LW

Chapter 1 or 7: Moving In Stereo (Writing Tip No. 1)

I am well and deep into the finishing recesses of my book. It’s been two long years of fighting certain aspects of it, not least withstanding periods of sluggishness, but now I am nearing the end. Or perhaps the beginning? Alas (or ha!), I am seriously considering switching the two. I’m currently re-writing the first draft of my epilogue and thinking, well damn if that couldn’t be the Prologue, instead! It’s an interesting thought, I wonder if my story will have the gumption to do it.

Have you ever moved chapters in haphazard or organized ways to see if your story could work differently? You might have to change tenses or turn some chapters into flashback scenes or go completely Boznai bananas and do a killer Pulp Fictiony kind of thing to make the full work make sense as a whole. (Whew.) However you may have done it in the past, I applaud you. It’d be cool to hear your story. Did shifting the timeline of your story improve it? Did your tale reach new heights?

If you haven’t done this, and you don’t think it’s an off-its-nut idea, you should try it. Or, if you don’t have a book to experiment on, if you’re a poet say, I’m sure this idea is not new to you. I’ve dabbled in poetry a great deal in the past and come off with an approximately 20% personal satisfaction rate overall—the rest is 70% drivel (do that math, it’s different than you’d think)—and having dabbled, I do know the great and untarnished joy of taking poetic license (pardon the pun) and dancing your many lines and stanzas from top to bottom to sideways to shelf and back again! It can be, at its finest, a wildly creative ride. Practice it more if it works.

LW

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6Ksrmbwr1s&w=420&h=215]