“Murder your darlings.”
Melissa Warren (Creative Writing, ’14) took this literary advice seriously during her undergraduate career at New Paltz, up until her senior year, when she decided to breathe new life into some long-expired phrases.
For her Honor’s Program thesis this spring, Warren penned a collection of 15 poems, entitled “Darlings Reincarnate.” Warren structured each poem around a word, phrase or bit of imagery she’d previously deleted from a poem or short story, because it wasn’t “helping the progress in any real way.”
“I was sitting down to start all these new poems, and I realized that I had all of these scraps of things that I did from the past,” said Warren. She’d saved her darlings in Word documents, on sticky notes, and scraps of paper. Others had been floating around in her head for years.
One murdered darling, “My ridge has pinked,” inspired the poem “Synesthesia,” in which Warren creatively plays with color to describe the waning of romantic passion:
In the din of your love’s colors,
I could never think. Slowly they
bled into my heart so that it grew
strange. But look: passions again have
pasteled; grief has gone—would you say
cool gray? Lovely tones. Easier
on the eye.
Previously discarded phrases such as “we crystallized” and “soft enough to die here” form the foundations of poems that explore themes of reason versus emotion, presence versus absence, romantic and familial relationships.
All the poems demonstrate Warren’s appreciation for the musicality of language and the concise, yet densely meaningful writing of former U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan, whose work inspired the poem “Seasonal.”
Humans are unstable in varying degrees:
I align myself with season,
for lack of a better center. Mid-winter
I observe that I am one who peers out windows
at white stretches and negotiates black ice,
who seems to understand.
How unfair that in the morning, a slow thaw
should so unhinge my sense of life on Earth—
that I can’t cope with one bird’s chirp.
Warren experimented with poetry’s formal techniques in the Creative Writing Program’s Poetry Craft Course. She believes that while most students are intimidated by poetry, they should not write off a very powerful literary form. “They think it has to be this formal thing about nature or love. Once you realize it can be about anything—it can be formal or free verse (and even in free verse there are formal elements)—you realize what a cool medium it can be.”
In reanimating her previously murdered darlings, Warren found herself murdering still more. She has a notebook of 100 pages of drafts for her collection, which contain phrases that tickled her fancy, yet didn’t quite fit in her newest poems. “They are there if I ever want to return to them,” she said.
Warren takes a thoughtful approach to writing. In her poetry classes, Warren learned that “a poem is something you have to live with for a while. It’s something you spend time with and you get to know.” Some of the poems in “Darlings Reincarnate” took weeks to write, and others, months.
“I like to land on a version that I’m happy with and then set it aside for weeks or months or years,” said Warren, noting that she hopes to “explore further” a few poems in the collection that aren’t quite finished.
Though she is pleased to see her style develop, Warren, who plans to pursue a career in the publishing industry, is reluctant to call herself a poet.
“I say that I’m a writer, but I never say that I’m a poet because I don’t feel that I am yet,” she said. “I am a writer who writes poetry. I need more time with it before I can call myself a poet.”
– Despina Williams