I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m writing a poetry collection about the creation of California. I’m trying to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.
I have never approached a writing project like this before. I mean, I have never chronicled it in this way. For the last 34 weeks, I have written down the entire process, or at least what was the most interesting idea or event of that week. I always tell people that writing is a lot of work, but I don't believe that myself. I know that I spend a lot of time researching, writing, and revising, but it never feels like work because it's always so much fun. Now, I have a kind of record of what I mean when I say talk about the time and difficulty of writing.
In 34 weeks, I have written 60 useable poems. I don't know how many more I will write. Probably ten or so. It just feels like I'm winding down a bit. I didn't start writing them until about week 20 because I had to do research and to develop a theme.
I started the collection twice. I wrote something like 50 sonnet stanza altogether for those two false starts. It's become a free verse collection now.
I've read something like 15 books, most of them donated by friends, a lot of them I got from Sean Moore, who runs Gatsby Books in Long Beach, California, my favorite bookstore. I also read all of John Muir's work and admire him less now than when I started. That was a strange twist. His views of Native American populations was a revelation to me. I know that there is much to be admired about him, but he was a human and that means he was flawed. Often, he is seen as a kind of saint of water conservation. He was that, and he was other things as well.
I've interview three water experts, learning what makes water in California so strange and magical. I live in a highly populated desert that doesn't have nearly enough water to support our population. The history of how we accomplish that is terrifying and fascinating.
I've gone to my writing group to work through these poems most weeks. My group meets in Fresno, and I live on the far side of Los Angeles. That's a 400 mile round trip each week, but they are brilliant and have moved my work to a completely new place. I'd drive twice as far to work with Bonnie Hearn Hill, Christopher Allen Poe, Hazel Dixon Cooper, Kathy Puckett, and Brenda Najimian. I've just dropped names so you can check out their books. They're brilliant.
I don't know how much work there is in the future except that I've only just started the revision process. What I have now is raw, and whatever power exists in these poems hasn't seen its full potential.
So what does all of these mean. It means that I've had a great time. None of this has really been work. At its heart, writing should be intellectual game play, and I've enjoyed every bit of this game. Next week, I suppose, I'll probably be done with the first draft completely. That would be melancholy except that I'm already working on my next project and I have a new poetry collection brewing in my head. We'll see how soon I can get to it.