Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Where Does a Poem Come From?

April is National Poetry Month. With that in mind, I decided to attempt to answer the following questions posed by Carol at A Revision.

1. Where do your poems start? What causes you to sit down and write a poem? Is it a certain emotion? Poetry is a constant in my life. I seem to have a need to interpret everything into the voice of my own spirit in order to better understand it. When I haven’t written any poetry in awhile, I become irritable and restless. At those times, I think of writing as taking my physic blood pressure, and I use the pen to get a diagnosis as well as for the treatment. Other times, poetry begins on its own as a rhythmic line I can use as springboard, or a thought that I recognize as an original one. It’s like coming across a shiny coin that wants to be picked up and then spent.

2. Do you have different stages to your poetry? Can you see how you’ve matured or changed over the years through your poetry? The foundation I write from has been informed by my genetic, environmental, and working class background. My love of language was first awakened by nursery rhymes, jump rope songs, and the songs of the 40s that my father taught me. I first started writing poetry after being inspired by the music of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and others. I’m amazed by all the time I’ve put into writing over the years and still today, and that I actually want to write. I can see the kernel of my early writing in everything I write today. That kernel is only now coming to fruition, 30 years later.

3. Do you have a favorite poem that you have written? What do you like about it? What does it say about you that you like? I’m usually excited by the new work I’m engaged in. Like a mother with children, it’s hard to pick favorites. I like the ones that are the most honest, where I was able to find a particular nerve and hit it, or ones that are condensed to the point where the lines are almost interchangeable. I like the ones that were fun to write and are fun to read. “Where I’m From,” about the place and the people that I’ve been steeped in, is one that was rewarding to write. I discovered through writing it that growing up by the ocean was as formative to me as my family environment was.

4. Do you have a favorite that someone else has written? What does it do for you? Does it give you an answer or cause you to think a certain way? Does it motivate you?
If you ask this question on another day, I might say something different, but today two poems come to mind. One is by Richard Brautigan. I like Brautigan’s humor and his ability to distill an image down. It’s a 7 line poem that ends with… A fly is sleeping…on a paper napkin. I have to wake him up, so I can wipe my glasses. There’s a pretty girl I want to look at.

The other poem “Long Life, is by a Japanese poet named IKIYU, written when he was 70. I first heard it by way of storyteller and mythologist Michael Meade. I like the way the poem surprises, like cold water splashed in my face, not to be hurtful but to wake me up. It ends… Face it! You’re happy! How many times do I have to say it? There is no way not to be who you are, and where.

5. Do you only write poetry or is it a part of a vast array of writing methods that you use to express your self or your thoughts? My voice came first, the technical skill came slower and later and is something I’ll always be working on. Through poetry I’ve learned how to tell a story, a mythical one with a beginning, a point, and a resolution. I’ve learned what sounds good together, not to waste words, and how to tie pieces together.

When my brothers died in 2001, I intended to write poetry as a way to process the grief, but I ended up writing a book instead. I remember feeling liberated by how much room prose allowed me and how specific I could be with it. But if I’m writing too much prose, I begin to need a vacation. Prose is like the day job and poetry is the rest of my life.

~ Originally posted on April 14, 2006.

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