Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Process of Writing a Poem

For those of you who are interested in how a poem comes to be, I offer this portrait of a morning at my writing desk.

Last night, as I was trying to fall asleep during the onslaught of a thunderstorm, a line of poetry swam up:

On the eve of the mass extinction

I've spent the morning playing with that idea.  It hasn't led to the fascinating places I thought it would.  But here's the interesting thing.  I still had my poetry legal pad out when I meandered over to the NPR website.  And there I found all sorts of inspiring lines.

Go read this blog post and see if you don't agree.  That post inspired these lines:

The rock does not resist erosion.

The star does not conserve its energy.

All very well and good.  But I wasn't sure where to go from there.  I noodled around on the NPR website and read this story about children and blocks.  I pulled out this chunk as found poetry:

"That prompts the question--what makes a block a block? I asked Karen Hewitt, a toy designer who's written about the history of blocks.

'That it's three dimensional,' she offered. 'That it's nonrepresentational, it doesn't have anything until a child gives it a name or function. And usually, blocks are modular. They relate to each other in some forms in ratio of size, or shape. They're predictable, so they keep their shape, no matter the material. And blocks basically rely on balance for building.'"

I played a bit:

The block is nonrepresentational
until you name it.  It exists
in relation to other blocks.
It's predictable; the block keeps
its shape no matter what.

I then returned to the previous lines from a different story and came up with these stanzas:

The rock does not resist erosion.
It does not continually uproot
itself, looking for a safer spot,
a place where it will flourish.
The rock submits to the elements.

The star burns through its fuel
source with no concern for the future.
It does not move cautiously,
hoping to conserve its energy
for an additional year in which to burn.

And then I thought of all the ways that humans are different.  I thought of those of us who could learn a lesson from these inanimate objects:

But you, you twist yourself
into all sorts of pretzel
shapes to please the ones
you love.  You allow them to imprint
you with their dreams and hopes.
You hide your light so as not to hurt
the feelings of the dimly burning wicks.

You have learned the lesson of the rock
too well.  You submit to the abrasion.
You wake to find your edges sanded
to sameness, your essence worn away.

It's not where I thought the poem would go.  I thought I admired the rock and its commitment to place.  I thought the star was foolish for not thinking about the future.  Yes, I realize I'm talking about inanimate objects which don't think or commit.

Or do they? I sense a different poem simmering below the surface.

Everything above is a rough draft, written just as it came out of my head.  I'm seeing too many uses of the to be verb, for one thing.  Is it worth revising?  I think it may be.

It's been a good poetry morning, one I've sorely needed in a week of house buying tasks and work tasks that included going to a phone training session, only to find out at the end of it that I'd be undergoing the training 2 more times, in 2 more meetings of which I will be attending.  Sigh.  It's really not that complicated--it's a phone, not a spaceship.

I like that line too:  it's a phone, not a spaceship.

Now it's time to get ready for the day's task.  First up, breakfast.  I haven't been nourishing myself quite as well as I should in these last few weeks.  It's time to return to the basics:  the joy of poetry creation, the bedrock of a good breakfast, the ability to keep everything in perspective.

I think of my 7 year old nephew, who had an intense fear of lawnmowers when he was a toddler.  I wonder which of my fears will seem that groundless when I'm older and have more distance? 

But that's a poem for another day . . . an inspiration/prompt recorded here as a hedge against a writing dry spell.


Hannah Stephenson said...

I love this, Kristin! Fun to peer over your shoulder.

BeBe Blake said...

This phone has allowed me to peer into your train of thought. Inner space intrigues me. Time to lead the NSA on an adventure!

Kristin said...

Thank you both!

And intriguing to think about how the world would be different if government entities were more interested in our creative activities.

I'm fairly sure I'm glad that gov't entities don't seem to care a whit--we're likely all safer that way, as is the Constitution.