I met a poet today. He told me that he held onto all his drafts of his poems. I asked him how many drafts he wrote.
He said he wrote sixty or seventy drafts for a poem. The least number of drafts he ever went through for one poem was two.
He told me to take a risk. Afterwards, the first risk I took was to write in his book. It was quite tame, but a start. The second risk was writing a message to a friend.
The poet marveled at the improbability of existence. At the way that one event can explode into a life trajectory. At the tragedy of the holocaust, and how many generational lines were cut short. At the unlikely survival of his ancestor who served during the entire Civil War, who saw the ironsides clanging munitions off each other’s plates, refusing to sink. The fellow surviving, surviving, even after contracting TB in a prison camp.
He recommended to me, “The Poetics of Space.” After a brief scan of one chapter, “Shells,” one line leaps out: “Wolves in shells are crueler than stray ones.” There’s a lot going on there. That’s what I love about poetry, its ability to distill.
My current favorite artist is William Steig. He was a cartoonist, a painter, and a writer. You may have heard of him because he wrote Shrek.
You’ll come to a fork, the poet said. Take it.
William Steig offers a little more help than that. He pens a toothy alligator witch doctor giving trail beta, and a catfish to give the protagonist a spear.