I couldn't sleep last night (or this morning) -- again. Something about the change of seasons, being in between jobs, two upcoming trips Back East, and still, thoughts about the reunion.
So I answered my new/old friend's question:
I say I have many questions but really it is all one: how does one sit down and write a poem?
(He is a writer, but not a poet.) This is what I said to him:
There isn't one answer, of course. Get thirteen poets and you'd get thirteen ways of looking at that blackbird. But it's a good question, nevertheless. I'm going to be teaching a five-week class this spring, a poetry workshop; I ought to be able to answer it.
Picasso, when dared as a child to draw a donkey, drew a donkey with one stroke starting at the leg. You could start anywhere, and it wouldn't necessarily limit where you ended up.
I often have to sneak up on a poem. If I face it squarely, head on, it eludes me, it disappears. (That's why the poems I've been struggling with about the reunion aren't working. I tell myself I'm writing about the reunion and they're out of here. Maybe in six months I can pull them out, tell myself they're not about the reunion but about a Robert Altman movie -- and it might work.)
For me, sound is key. It's the best and worst aspect of my poems. I often start with a phrase that just comes to my head.
I take notes all the time. I make a note in a notebook about something intriguing and forget it. These notes can be sounds, reminders of something read or said, dream sequences, ideas I need to research and pursue -- or anything. Often the notes don't go anywhere at all, but sometimes they do. Sometimes, when looked at later, the mishmash of the scribble creates the poem. A misspelling, a shape suggests something to me. I wrote a poem after seeing Walk The Line, the Johnny Cash movie. I wrote it on a narrow sheet of paper. The poem is about crawling off into a cave to die, and the poem is narrow like the paper and cramped like a cave. It is, as you said associative. It's best not explained in the poem.
Sometimes, more rarely, the note is
the poem. The poem Sonhar that is on my website was a reverie, some rather disorganized thoughts that came to me sitting in my garden and drinking a glass of wine and thinking about the one boy ever who cried for me, someone back in college. I hardly wrote it; it wrote itself. He'd grown up in Brazil, which is why the Brazilian / Portuguese references, but there would be no way one would know that.
But that's unusual. More often, I write whatever and in the clear light of day edit it, look for the form it contains, remove the dead matter. When my mom was dying of a brain tumor in 2000, I wrote dozens of poems to deal with it. They were 90 percent awful. I ended up taking all the lines I liked from those poems and putting them in one composite poem. The star image you liked in Fraught With Danger was cannibalized from a poem I wrote very long ago, in the seventies, imagining my own conception.
I don't necessarily have any idea where the poem is going when I start writing it. My latest accepted poem, Conjugated Visits, which will be published in Field
in the spring, started with a note about a snail and a question about styles of love. It ended up as a sort of grammar of love: she, he, they, we and so forth.
Maybe writing a poem is like any other writing, but more so, taking more advantage of the serendipitous, not necessarily arriving at answers when it asks questions.
Okay, poets out there in the blogosphere, what does it take for you?