Anne Boyer on “Garments Against Women”
Anne Boyer’s Garments Against Women (Ahsahta Press, 2015) is filled with prose as lyrical as it is engaged. And it topped SPD’s bestseller list for three separate months accordingly. In this week’s Revisionings, Boyer reveals a deleted passage from the book and considers the task of revising a manuscript of uncertain genre.
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Garments Against Women is a book about what isn’t, so most of what I have to say about revising it has to do with what could have been but wasn’t.
The book didn’t have any generic demands to fulfill, wasn’t an essay or a novel, and if it was made of poems, they were barely recognizable as such. Because of this, I missed out on the mode of revision that a person trying to make a “good” version of something feels like they must do. Nothing in it had to be a good anything because it had nothing to live up to except itself.
Writing this book was mostly arranging what I had previously written when I thought I wasn’t writing. It was made of scraps and remainders all patched up in a manner I liked to imagine as “symphonically,” and revising it was mostly rearranging these pieces, fucking with chronology, making decisions about how much density or transparency to allow.
I didn’t send it to any of my friends for advice, it was such a weird work, and for the most part, the sentences in it are almost exactly like they always were. I think it is important as a writer to tell other people who are learning to write that revision actually isn’t all that, that sometimes things come out okay the first time, that sometimes too much messing-with actually muddies things up, and that a lot of times the best mode of revision is a thorough rearrange or a giant cut. Too much emphasis on polish really misses out on the aesthetic cunning of the rough.
When I look at earlier drafts, it seems like I have a record mostly of my removals. For example, this passage was one of the final cuts:
“What I have most admired most about poetry is the way that it, as an art form, imagines itself out.
Out of everything, I guess: the present, the past, the form, out of style, out of style’s delusions, out of language, out of books, out of time, out of space, out of poetry itself.
It seems very much like poetry is always at the very end of itself, a ladder propped on nothing, a heap of aspirants crowded on the ladder’s top rung. Then someone invents something else (not a ladder).”
I liked the figure of the poetry’s aspirants on the top of the ladder waiting for one of them to imagine something else that isn’t a ladder. That was okay. The problem with the figure, though, is that I’m not entirely sure that poetry does imagine itself out, it’s just I was 1) a poet and 2) wanted to imagine myself out 3) was trying to do it in poems that imagine themselves outside of poems. I didn’t want to feed any myths of progress and to write about why I loved poetry was a little too much indulging in my own romance.
What I left in was more of a mystery, but in that sense, more true:
“My favorite arts are the ones that can move your body or make a new world. What at first kept me enthralled wasn’t justice, it was justice-like waves, and a set of personal issues, like the aesthetization of politics and the limitation of reading lists before the digital age.”
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Anne Boyer is a poet and essayist who lives in Kansas City.