Monday, July 01, 2024

notes on process

Occasionally, I will be working on a poem and the words do not even feel like my own. Maybe some communication from the ether or the netherworld that channels itself through my hand, down into the keys and onto the screen. Other times, the lines are hard wrought and feel more like sowing something, planting something in a dark little garden that may hopefully bloom by the end of the poem. Or other times like a machine that clicks and winds and begins to purr. I never know which of these things will happen in a given piece of writing. Or if any will. Or, if I am really lucky, all of them at once. 

Different things have taken precedence at different times in my career as a poet. The early poems were so hard and so fretted over. I barely knew what I was doing. I slogged along and each line felt like pulling something out of my body. I knew what I wanted and went hunting for it. Later, I would jumble the words and images and spangled contents in a bag and shake them out onto the page, much in the way I would make a collage. While this was not as difficult as the first few years of writing anything worth reading, it was still hard to have them fall into line in a way that made sense. That seemed like I wasn't just randomly making word salad.

There was a shift slowly over the last decade toward poems being more sound generated than image-or content generated. Like if I could just get the first few lines rolling, the poem would almost unwittingly write itself--that tiny machine--that hopefully would get me to the end point. Unlike the order of the early poems, or the chaos of the later ones, these poems somehow assemble themselves according to their own logic and feel much smoother going. So much so, I never quite trust them. 

There was a time when I was an undergrad that I loved rhyming. I call it my Emily Dickinson phase, since I was doing that ballad format end-rhyme shit that is kind of terrible, but I was very good at rhyming. While I moved thankfully past end-rhyming by the time I got to grad school,  I am still a girl who loves internal rhyme and slant rhyme and repeating sounds. Consonance, assonance, anaphora and all those other tasty poet treats. 

The other night, I was working on a piece from CARNIVAL GAMES and relished the particularly delicious combo of "strangle" and "mangroves," that scratched a nice little part of my brain and it was one of those moments I have occasionally, despite log days writing other things, of thinking and pining over writing other things, of feeling frustrated that poetry has such a small audience, that being a poet feels exactly right.