December Musings by Sue Wallace-Shaddad
As we are nearing the end of the year, I thought I would consider the power of deadlines. Poetry competitions always seem to close at the end of a month. I am then faced with poems competing with one other to be in particular submissions. The dates of results of course do not follow such a pattern. Sometimes there is a clear mention of when results might be communicated, but other times you can wait months or even over a year.
I find deadlines helpful. They focus my mind and poems that I might have thought reasonable are scrutinised again and found wanting. A lot of editing can happen before I finally submit poems. Hopefully the fact that time has elapsed since I last looked at a poem, helps me make better judgements. I suddenly spot a repetition that is not needed or decide I have used a cliché.
When I was doing my MA in Writing Poetry with the Poetry School, London (a Newcastle University degree) partly during lockdown, deadlines were a good element of structure to have in my life. I had a purpose beyond staying at home and keeping safe. Recently, working with a mentor on what, I hope, will be my debut collection, I was reminded of the comfort of structure, working to a plan. You know where you are. However, you do not always know where you are with a poem.
The structure of a poem can take shape in many ways. I usually write directly into lines (in a notebook) and when I transfer to my computer I often, at that stage, start to create couplets or tercets for example. I am getting better at then going further, consciously interrogating my draft to see if the poem wants to take on a very different shape on the page.
The word ‘deadline’ is interesting, being made up of ‘dead’ and ‘line’. An internet search shows its origin may be the American Civil War where prisoners should not cross a line outside the prison or they would be shot dead. Another meaning suggested is that is refers to a line that does not move. I am sure we don’t think of this word having anything to do with death, when we make a list of tasks and due dates. Some deadlines get moved. Some deadlines are more important than others and can impact a person’s life and career.
In the poetry world, we try to keep track of which deadlines are coming up, what we have submitted and when we will hear the results. There are poets who generously share their system of logging opportunities. It is an imperfect science. I have a word document, others use spreadsheets. As I write more and more poems, the task becomes ever more cumbersome and it is easy for me to forget what I have written and where it has been sent, even with my list in place.
At this time of year November/December I remember a lot of elderly relatives I have lost over the last few years, including my mother. The dark evenings and often rainy weather have a sense of mourning about them. However, the New Year is not so far off so there is hope in sight.
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