Thursday, August 19, 2010

Poetry Prompts from Old Notebooks

I write my poems on purple legal pads. I also take notes: metaphors that would make a good poem, something that would make a great symbol, an idea that's not ready to be a poem but needs to be recorded. I always think that I'll go back and do something with it all, but I rarely do.

I am not one of those people plagued with writer's block. On the contrary, I'm plagued by lack of time. I have more ideas than I have time to get onto paper or pixels.

However, last night I found myself with a stretch of time and no real plan, unlike some evenings, when I've been anticipating alone time in the house, and I've spent a week plotting how I'll use it. So, I flipped through my old notebooks while listening to this fabulous interview with Natasha Trethewey on NPR's Fresh Air.

Usually, I have some sense of the poem when I start to write. Often, I've composed the whole poem in my head before I start to write. I'm open to inspiration, because I know my brain likes to dart to unexpected places, but I often have a destination in mind.

Last night, I was looking through notebooks from 2008. You might argue that my subconscious had been working on these ideas for 2 years, but I often recorded ideas and promptly moved on to something else. If my subconscious has been working, it's been working very stealthily.

I had a sputtery start from this prompt, which I had written in an e-mail and thought might make a poem: "Why sit at home staring at the dirty laundry?" I only had that line, and couldn't go very much further.

Undaunted, I flipped a few more pages. I came across another fragment: Christmas Eve at Ground Zero. No explanation, but I think I remember a news story that talked about an impromptu Christmas Eve service. I decided not to Google, but just to see where I went. I also decided to avoid the current controversy with the mosque. I thought about the fact that Ground Zero didn't always refer to the September 11 event and went from there. I have a good first draft.

I still felt energized, so I kept flipping through the notebook. I had tried to write a poem entitled "Praying the Breviary at 30,000 Feet," but I couldn't make it work at the time. Last night, I was able to create a good second draft.

I flipped to a different page and came across this notation of an actual event when one of our institutional effectiveness guys was staring at the huge part of the HVAC system that's usually hidden in a gigantic closet but was exposed to view as repairs were being made. I had this title: "The Institutional Effectiveness Expert Considers the HVAC System." I fictionalized a bit: one of our institutional effectiveness experts has a degree in Industrial Design, but I gave the character in the poem a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

By the end of that poem, the interview on Fresh Air was over, and I was feeling a bit wrung out. So, I turned off the electronics and resisted the siren call of the television. I picked up Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book that one of my book clubs will be discussing next. I read it several years ago when it first came out, so it's a good reading choice for my brain when it's tired.

This morning hasn't been as productive, since I had to take the car to the shop. But given last night's wonderful experience, I'm giving myself a break.


Sandy Longhorn said...

Inspiring post...thanks!

Sherry O'Keefe said...

this helps, thanks!

by the way, have you read kingsolver's "high tide in tucson"? a favorite of mine.

Kristin said...

Thank you both for stopping by; I'm glad to know this post inspired. I always forget about the treasures tucked away in my old notebooks.

I've read every book Kingsolver has written, except for her latest novel, which I'll be reading during a mini-vacation in a few weeks. She never disappoints me, and what a rare trait that is.