A much-loved obstacle to my process.

A much-loved obstacle to my process.


Welcome, Poetry Friday Friends,

I know it may seem a little odd, but today I greet you not with a poem, but with two quotes I’ve been thinking about.

The first is from the photographer Sally Mann’s memoir Hold Still:

“Maybe you’ve made something mediocre–there’s plenty of that in any artist’s cabinets–but something mediocre is better than nothing, and often the near-misses, as I call them, are the beckoning hands that bring you to perfection just around the blind corner.”

I love the reminder here that producing something–anything–is worth the time. Sometimes I fall into the trap of feeling that the time I spent writing was wasted if I haven’t produced something I could share. Mann reminds me that I need to change my definition of progress. Progress can sometimes be the terrible poem or terrible draft that ended up crumpled on the floor. My favorite part of the quote is actually “blind corner.” There you are writing badly, again and again, and then, surprise, all that struggle and learning pays off, and you had no idea it was coming when it did.

The second quote I want to share is from the painter Chuck Close:

“All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”

In a way it’s quite similar to what Mann says, but for me, this quote puts the emphasis on what’s happening during the process and the near-misses. That’s where the creativity lives and grows. It may be inching along, or going in the wrong direction, or striking hard and fast like lightning, but it’s happening while the artist is working, shooting film, painting canvas, typing words.

This week I was working on a poem about a lawyer at work. (I’ll explain another time.) I started off with a fairly clumsy and boring draft. I went back in. This time as the lawyer’s brain filled with facts, it became a carefully packed grocery bag and in the end an artichoke came out. I liked the artichoke, but I didn’t really think it worked for the subject. Okay, something full, but not a grocery bag, a tool box? That seemed promising until it was time for him to pull things out, and I realized I didn’t want him using a wrench or a screwdriver on anyone in the courtroom. I went back in, and this time his mind was like a map covered in streets and dotted with points of interest, and his argument was like giving someone directions. I could not possibly have come up with this staring at a screen. It was in the process, the work, the near-misses that I came to something better. It’s too early to say yet whether I’m done, but I do feel good about my progress.

Please leave your link below, and if you like, share some thoughts on process or even a favorite quote. I look forward to reading your posts.

Happy Poetry Friday!


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As I sit down to write,
a cat creeps in
and sits on my head.
She circles once,
before settling
on the hummock
of my brain,
tucks her head
beneath her feet
and purrs herself
to sleep.
I can’t think of anything
but fur.


Buffy Silverman and I are doing a month-long poetry swap. Every day we exchange poems and critiques. The accountability makes the process very motivating, as do the friendly and helpful replies. I feel very lucky to have such a wonderful partner. On the first day of the month, Buffy sent me a poem about fog (inspired by her gorgeous photographs) with the preface that she wished she’d written Carl Sandburg’s poem. Don’t we all? I thought, and how brave she is to write about fog when every time anyone sits down to write about it, that damn cat shows up and blocks the view. Did I mention that the swap is also inspirational?

Next Friday I’ll be at the SCBWI Conference in NYC. Will any of you be there too?

For more Poetry Friday, visit the Miss Rumphius Effect.

All the best,