September 1st, 2006


Manning, "The Trenches"

The Trenches

Endless lanes sunken in the clay,
Bays, and traverses, fringed with wasted herbage,
Seed-pods of blue scabious, and some lingering blooms;
And the sky, seen as from a well,
Brilliant with frosty stars.
We stumble, cursing, on the slippery duck-boards.
Goaded like the damned by some invisible wrath,
A will stronger than weariness, stronger than animal fear,
Implacable and monotonous.

Here a shaft, slanting, and below
A dusty and flickering light from one feeble candle
And prone figures sleeping uneasily,
And men who cannot sleep,
With faces impassive as masks,
Bright, feverish eyes, and drawn lips,
Sad, pitiless, terrible faces,
Each an incarnate curse.

Here in a bay, a helmeted sentry
Silent and motionless, watching while two sleep,
And he sees before him
With indifferent eyes the blasted and torn land
Peopled with stiff prone forms, stupidly rigid,
As tho’ they had not been men.

Dead are the lips where love laughed or sang,
The hands of youth eager to lay hold of life,
Eyes that have laughed to eyes,
And these were begotten,
O Love, and lived lightly, and burnt
With the lust of a man’s first strength: ere they were rent,
Almost at unawares, savagely; and strewn
In bloody fragments, to be the carrion
Of rats and crows.

And the sentry moves not, searching
Night for menace with weary eyes.

--Frederic Manning

plateaus and mountain-climbing

I didn't write last night, as I was taking care of various domestic things that had fallen slack while I worked on "The Forest People." I thought I wasn't thinking about writing, only loud rock music, and bleach pens and laundry, and packing up some videotapes to mail to a friend. But I couldn't sleep for a long time, and finally realized what was bothering me.

I don't feel like anything I've written lately is good enough.

The last three stories I've really worked on--"Poppet," "The Token," and "The Forest People," all seemed lacking to me, missing some indefinable something that I wanted to be there and wasn't. All three of them took several drafts, not because of the sentence-level prose--I don't have to think about that nearly as much as I used to--but because the stories just wouldn't fly. Not in my head, anyway. Bear in mind that the first two in that list sold already, and when I went back later and reread they seemed perfectly competent to me.

So is it the stories? Or is it me? Or both?

The WWI novel, which I finished well over a year ago, was a giant watershed for me. I can see the improvement in my prose style, especially comparing it to two previous novel attempts, and parts of it still sing to me emotionally. Am I still so attached to that one project that nothing else can match up? Is it like the longlost lover who grows more perfect with every passing year? Or is it that I climbed a mountain with that book, and now there's nowhere to go except onward onto the high plateau? Or down.

I am battling, between making deadlines and making Art. I want to write something that's the absolute best it can be and polish until it's so beautiful I can hardly look at it, and only then send it out into the world. I want to not care about anything but the work and making it shine and sing and all that other metaphorical crap.

And then I think, who do you think you are, Michaelangelo? and what's wrong with fun, simple stories? and geez, overthinking, much?.

Maybe I'd better push all this philosophising into my backbrain, and just get the hell to work on the next project. Because, in the end, forward and upward won't happen unless the words go on the paper.