Photos at an exhibition

I refuse to write when I'm not in the mood. I know many force themselves to sit in front of a computer screen or write in a notebook to keep up the "discipline," but that has never worked for me. If I can't write, I'd rather be reading, or watching House Hunters International on HGTV or scrolling through Facebook.

A new poem had been rattling around in my mind for the last couple of weeks – actually a few months, but more on that in a minute – but I wasn't in the mood to write it. Last night, I was just going to jot down the lines I had sorted out in my head before I lost them in a fog of other thoughts, but three hours later I had a first draft.

The idea for the poem came from the Sally Mann exhibition at The Photographer's Gallery in London. I thought the poem was going to hinge on a comment Karen Head made while we were looking at Mann's Immediate Family portraits: "She's the Sharon Olds of photography." Mann's photos of her young children in various states of controversial nudity still pack a punch, but it was the set of images from What Remains – photos of decomposing corpses at the The University of Tennessee Anthropological Research Facility and the Civil War battlefield at Antietam (pictured) – that stuck with me.

Mann often uses the old wet-plate collodion method for her photography, where a glass plate is coated in chemicals, exposed and then rushed to a make-shift darkroom to process. The irregularities and unexpected textures of the collodion – not to mention errant dust and debris – make for arresting, ethereal black and white images. I read and watched videos on the collodion process for about 90 minutes and then started writing.

I've never written a poem quite like this one, so I've starting sending it around to some trusted friends for their feedback. It's too technical at the moment, but I think it has good bones. I need to let it sit for awhile and then come back to it.

If that wasn't enough, I then started tweaking a couple of other recent poems and before I knew it was midnight. If only I could get on that kind of roll with the Conquering Venus sequel. The last three chapters are coming in fits and starts – despite the outline.

If you happen to be on Twitter this Sunday night (Oct. 24) at 9 p.m. eastern time, look for a poetry discussion between me (@collinkelley), Deborah Ager from 32 poems (@32poems), D.A. Powell (@powell_da), January O'Neil (@januaryoneil) and Aimee Nezhukumatathil (@aimeenez). We'll be using the hashtag #poetparty so find us on Twitter and join in.


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