I don’t know I don’t know; or, On Writing a Chapbook: The Story of Being Many Seeds

So with the birth of a new collection of poems, I thought I might share the backstory, as the poems came together in an unusual way, for me.

The poems in this book began as a monthlong exercise in imitations. Each day I’d choose a poem from a literary magazine or book of poems I had lying around, and I’d try to do a word-for-word imitation, but trying often to use opposite words. That is, if the poem started “One early morning…” I might say “Every late night….” I tried to choose poems that seemed unlike anything I might write: longer lines, narrative rather than lyric.

I didn’t overthink the process, I just let words rise up as prompted by the original poem, and figured whatever subject matters were lurking in my brain would arise naturally from this process. So then I had thirty or so of these, and looking back through, I was interested in many of them.

I began revising them back toward my own voice and rhythms. But they never felt entirely OF me, there was always something a bit different about them. So I thought I’d try a radical revision, really strip each poem down. That was fun.

So I decided to strip them down again.

Then I realized that each of these stripped down versions had something interesting to say to the version before. When I began understanding them as erasures of themselves, I got interested in presenting the poems in all three versions, particularly when the erasures began heading in different directions from the originating text.

Still I felt something missing. I remembered a couple of Rebecca Solnit books had a separate text running across the bottom of each page, like a murmured conversation happening elsewhere in the room. In real life this would have made me crazy, such an eavesdropper am I. But on the page, I loved that view out the corner of my eye of this sort of secret subtext.

So I thought about what the poems seemed to be talking about and around. And I got thinking about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I’m not sure why. I had read bits and pieces of his work over the years, and I knew I had a book or two hanging out on some dusty shelf. So I began reading his work again, and thinking about his ideas, and having my own response to his thoughts. And so I began to set my thoughts running across the pages of the poems.

I had begun to envision this as a digital object, something you could watch while the erased words disappeared before your eyes, and the essay text appeared down the side of the virtual page. But I didn’t know how to do this, nor did I know how to contact an organization or person that did, nor did I know how I would get such a thing out into the world. So I created a paper-based version, at first having the essay text running sideways on each page, so you’d actually physically have to turn the page around. But some beta readers questioned this, so I ran the text across the bottom.

But the idea of a visual version haunted me, so I began experimenting with what software I did know how to use to try to approximate my vision. This was arduous and had several dead ends, but I finally figured out how to make it all happen in iMovie, and created some music/sound and manipulated some of my own photos.

So more than any other collection of poems, this one came together through a series of “lemme try thises” and “maybe I’ll try thats.” I felt through much of the process that I was moving through a combination of instinct and blunder, like walking around a familiar room but in the total dark. I was never entirely comfortable. It was a really stimulating process, and fun, in the end, if a bit bumbly in the middle.

So I encourage you to get uncomfortable. Turn out the lights, get up and wander around. Let something catch your eye and turn toward it, try it. Don’t think too much. Have a little fear, but not too much. Whether my book or video appeal to you or not, you will have a very interesting experience, I can promise you that.

Being Many Seeds, the book: www.graysonbooks.com

Being Many Seeds, the movie: www.vimeo.com/marmccabe/beingmanyseeds


14 thoughts on “I don’t know I don’t know; or, On Writing a Chapbook: The Story of Being Many Seeds

  1. Marilyn,

    Great blog post. Great promotion for your book. I just ordered it from Amazon. That’s one of the places the publisher’s website directs you to.

    I was one of my favorites of your body of work you presented to the Boiler House Poets. I’m glad it won an award!


    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kyle. Yes, I was sorry to see Grayson Books only takes checks by mail or directs people to Amazon. But anyway glad to have this little oddball collection out in the world.


  2. Congratulations, Marilyn! I love hearing about your whole process with Being Many Seeds and am honored to have read it earlier on with Boiler House Poets Collective. I did order from Grayson. Amazon said it would take a month to get here, which is entirely too long! Hoping to see you this fall so you can sign it for me.



  3. Congratulations! I can attest that your book is lovely–a journey–and an intriguing approach to “stripping down” poems. More about that on my own blog, when I get to it!

    I cannot seem to run the video on my old Mac, so will try again with a more up to date computer tomorrow.


    • Oh, thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I had to do some fiddling with the video yesterday, if that’s when you were trying to view it. You may want to try again. Or…er…it IS your old technology… Anyway, thank you again. Rcv’d yours and it’s on my anticipated pile of to-be-reads. Thank you for that.

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. This morning in Colorado after tending a more native garden all weekend, I feel as one with the soil, and was exhilarated by your video, your many ways of presenting your book with voice and sound as intelligent as the way you stripped down text into its greater essence. Today I have hope.


    • Thank you, Kyle. For watching, reading, appreciating, and for your steady support. Miss you and hope you are keeping strong.


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