Years ago, I belonged to a mixed-genre writing group. I was one of the few members who primarily wrote poetry, so I was delighted when another poet – Don, an American university professor – settled in the city for a few months and started to attend meetings with his wife. (I can’t remember what she wrote; it may have been academic writing rather than creative.)
I’ve often thought that poets get short-changed at writing groups as they are expected to give feedback on all the other members’ work in a range of genres, but frequently get no useful comments about their poems.
Often the response is no more than a simple “I like it.” Sometimes it’s an apology for the lack of feedback, accompanied by the excuse “I don’t understand poetry.” And at other times I’ve been told “Well poetry’s whatever you want it to be, isn’t it? So I’m sure it’s really good.”
On one occasion Don was commenting on the details of someone’s short story when his wife interrupted: “Don’t worry about what he says: he’s a poet – he thinks it’s all about the details.”
Perhaps the story was too early a draft to make a proof-reader’s eye particularly useful – it may yet have needed to go through a number of re-writes – but I suspect that, very often, the details are also what makes fiction effective.
Even if it was an early draft, I certainly understood the temptation to correct the punctuation and tweak the inconsistencies: I, too, tend to home in on the little things, rather than seeing the big picture.
I’ve realised that I also do the same with my photographs: most of the pictures I take are close-ups.
I like to zoom in and look at a flower bud so closely that it becomes a kind of alien claw.
So today I’ve tried to step back a bit: the main focus is obvious, but there’s a little more space to consider the background.
Here the giant daisies are clearly what mattered to me, but there’s still enough room to see the buttercups:
The rose bud is beautiful, but there’s space for something else to be going on in the background:
And finally, as always, the geometrical complexity of the aquilegia flower stopped me in my tracks, but I haven’t quite ignored the possibility of following the garden path and ending up somewhere else.