The road ends, but the journey continues...

A Writer's Process: Kevin Powers Interview as Guidance & Inspiration

 ‘Every time I open a book or sit down at my desk, I’m hoping for confirmation that it is possible to understand and be understood by my fellow human beings.’  Kevin Powers

I have mentioned before that one of the guiding forces behind my starting this website/blog has been to showcase the vignettes written during our three-year journey between homes.  I have been in the process of ordering these vignettes into a completed manuscript for quite some time and continue to come up short.  And frustrated.
Basically, it’s been hard to find the ‘perfect’ criteria covering the many aspects of content for that ordering.  For instance, they could be grouped by subject matter, literal chronological order, the unfolding of revelations during our journey independent of chronology, by location, by evolution of intent, or even by creatively using recipes as tools to tell the story.  My Works-In-Progress working notebooks are filled with lists of possible chapter groupings that just don’t seem to work.
This blog has enabled me to explore possible arrangements to some extent. Presenting the Goat Suite Saga as a complete series within the totality of the Swimming with Swans project has allowed me to work with the previously written material and then revisit, revise, edit, refocus and even eliminate some of it to craft it into a cohesive read. In addition, I’ve used the blog platform to post a few vignettes based upon relevance to a particular current event regardless of when that vignette occurred within our journey.
While working with the knowledge that some potential venues consider blog posts as previously ‘published’ material and thus ineligible to be published in a more traditional realm, I have found blogging to be a rewarding process nonetheless. The blog platform has allowed me to create completed pieces using different avenues of format and layout, thus giving me the ability to see my writings as a prototype of publishable material.
Unfortunately, Swimming with Swans is still largely unordered.  As a complete project, it’s as full of holes as a block of Swiss cheese.
How fortuitous, then, when an interview with Kevin Powers appeared in the March/April 2014 issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. His Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting (to be released in April 2014) chronicles his years of active duty in Iraq in the form of poetry.  In this interview, Kevin discusses the challenges he faced in presenting his poems as a cohesive yet artistic documentation of events spanning several years. In fact, much of what he dealt with in producing a finished manuscript is much of what I’ve been struggling with in completing my own Swimming with Swans manuscript.

Inclusion criteria.

Re-reading the article with an eye for insights in solving those issues, this is what I gleaned from Kevin’s responses.

On content: ‘As far as I’m concerned, someone who reads my work and concludes that the subject of war is of particular interest to me would be objectively correct.  But I also trust that readers will see that I’m interested in the way that experience influences the way I perceive the world at large, whether it’s as an individual human person; an American; a son; or anything else, really.  My identity is informed by my experience in the war, but isn’t limited to that.’
On ordering: ‘The collection doesn’t necessarily reflect the chronology of the writing, though it might tend toward it…I tried to find an arrangement that operated on multiple levels with regard to the relationships the poems have to one another as well as a kind of evolution in the organizing consciousness behind the poems.’
On timing: ‘I needed to let the intensity of the experience subside somewhat before I could approach the writing with what I felt was the necessary perspective.  Not objectivity, but something approaching a kind of critical distance.’
On inclusion criteria: ‘I wanted the book to be a whole, but one formed by its parts rather than by an overarching concept that determined what parts would be required.’
On purpose: ‘At some point I decided that coming to a conclusion about the effects of violence, whether as a perpetrator, victim, or witness, wasn’t necessarily the task in front of me…I hoped that if I could raise those questions, it might provide a beginning for those readers who wanted to ask them in whatever way was relevant to their lives.’

How Kevin Powers ultimately approached the ordering of his poem-project makes a lot of sense to me.  He, too, faced the daunting task of ordering his manuscript in accordance to a specific timeline within the realm of certain experiences.
I wish I could pick his brain further, in person, writer to writer.  But this interview will have to suffice, along with reading his Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting come April 2014.
Thank you, Kevin Powers, for shedding a little more light on this writer’s path towards ordering and finishing Swimming with Swans-vignettes of our three year journey between homes.


  1. Holistic Wayfarer

    Interesting. “Content.
    Inclusion criteria.
    I appreciate this, as a musician.
    The components apply in our living as well.
    Takes wisdom to discern what content should comprise our days (activities, people)….this would be a whole other post. =)
    Very nice to know something of your journey better, Laura.

    • laura bruno lilly

      Until I read your comment, I hadn’t realized I’d approached my Swimming with Swans project like I do my concert-programs! Very interesting indeed.
      I’m pleased the glimpses into ‘my journey’ are providing fodder for consideration on your own path.
      Take care

  2. Jayne

    Lots to think about here! As I read it, I couldn’t help but remember something I read on Facebook yesterday. It was material excerpted from Stephen King’s book On Writing and included 20 Rules for Writers (or something like that). I read the book a few years ago and dip into it often, so there was nothing brand new in the post. However, I’m glad I read it because it reminded me that even someone of his stature, fame, and talent still works hard. It’s kind of easy to get it all down in some sort of jumbled up way, but then that’s when the real work begins: editing, cutting, editing, rereading, editing, ordering, editing, rewording, editing….

    • laura bruno lilly

      Hi Jayne! Yep, there is certainly ‘nothing new under the sun’ but how individuals work through and apply ‘rules, advise, information’ in craft is where the ‘newness’ lies…

  3. Anna Scott Graham

    A fortuitous time for you to stumble across this article. I’m always amazed when something lands my way that helps to ease me to another juncture, or just give me food for thought. Then I smile at myself, wondering why I’m so surprised… 🙂

    • laura bruno lilly

      The term ‘synchronicity’ comes to mind here…

  4. Joe Finnerty

    There are many solutions to this memoir writer’s problem, and what fits one author may not suit another. After standing on the board, one finally has to take the plunge.
    I chose to compile my vignettes in a chronological sequence.
    Unable to fit all of them into that mold, I tacked the ungainly ones on at the end, like dessert after the main meal. I am certain a professional editor might have offered a better solution, but if the story is entertaining, a reader will enjoy it regardless of its imperfections in form, style, or chronology.
    “It ain’t how you start, it’s how you finish,” go the lyrics.

    • laura bruno lilly

      ‘…like dessert after the main meal.’ An appealing way of dealing with bits that just don’t seem to fit.
      Thanks, Joe!

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