Finding the “Shape” of Your Work
I’m Kim Bridgford, and, like the rest of you, I am eager to be a part of the writing community on Enders Island. For me, writing is always a journey—spiritual, personal, sometimes physical (I’ve written about Iceland and Venezuela, and my next journey is to Bhutan)—and I’m glad that I’ll be adding a recurring journey to Enders Island to this list.
Let me tell you a little about myself. I’ve taught at Fairfield University for almost twenty years, and have taught as well at the University of Iowa, the University of Illinois, and Hamilton College. My publications include poems in both free verse and structured forms, as well as fiction and critical essays. I’ve written about such poets as Mark Doty, Dana Gioia, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Marilyn Nelson, and Micheal O’Siadhail. In addition, I edit two journals, a print journal at Fairfield University, and an online formalist women’s poetry journal, I hope you enjoy taking a look at both sometime.<
I wanted to open up a discussion on how we find the shape of the work we’re writing. For me, in some ways that’s been easier in recent years, because I’ve chosen to write mostly sonnets. Yet within each poem I want to find exactly the right rhyme scheme and arrangement of stanzas. Since I write entire books of sonnets on the same general topic — world records, fortunes in fortune cookies, or classic movies — I have to think about the arrangement of the work within each book and within each section of the book. Should it be by chronology? The development of a certain narrative?
I’ve found it a useful exercise to look at other books of poetry to see which poems appear first and last, how sections are arranged, and even if there are sections at all. Being conscious of the organization of the book has helped me to think about the planning of my own books and which types of poems work best where. For example, it’s rare for a long poem to work best at the beginning of a book.
Whatever genre you work in, how do you find the shape of your work? Do you know the beginning and ending ahead of time? Do you need to do a “junk draft” and then fill it in, or do you work line by line until you get your work the way you want? If you don’t know what your work is going to look like as you start the process, how do you know when you’re finding the true shape of your work? Then how do you organize it with other work so that you have a larger whole?