I’m working on poetry this month. Editing, writing, editing. Until the lines stay put in a way that feels right, and true, and possibly even, poetic. I’ve read about poets who stick with a first draft, period. Good for them. Every now and then a poem arrives like a gift, and only minor tweaking is ever needed. But not on a routine basis. Usually, like fine wine, a poem needs time. And if I’m dedicated, returning to it now and then and not rushing the process, it will eventually reveal itself to me … often in surprising ways.

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and
poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

The creative process, when it works, is actually quite enjoyable. Lines of poetry can feel like an invitation to another world: another time or place. But I have to be a good listener to write a poem I truly love. Does that sound strange, or unexpected? If you’re a writer, I’m sure you know that all forms of writing involve listening. But knowing this doesn’t mean I won’t forget; it’s all too easy to get in my own way. To assume where a poem is going. To fall in love with a certain word, or a line, refusing to hit the delete key.

IMG-20130605-01202“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”
Robert Frost

Frost is correct. A poem begins in the far reaches of my consciousness, and only when I’m a patient listener does writing become fruitful, focused, and rewarding. Sometimes a new poem begins with a question, one that can’t possibly be answered. Still, I must begin. I must grapple with the question knowing there is no precise resolution. But eventually, I hit upon a single word that seems to point me in the right direction. Somehow I know to follow that word … somewhere.

  • If you write prose or poetry or both, what is your process? Has it changed over the years or not really?

Finding the right title for a poem is also interesting. Sometimes a title seems perfect, but hours later, it goes by the wayside. Perhaps it’s just a little off-center, doesn’t quite hit the mark: illuminating the essence of the poem. Then, sometimes in the middle of the night, a better title surfaces. When I’m lucky, I write it down, so the idea isn’t forgotten by morning.

The poet doesn’t invent. He listens.
~Jean Cocteau


Long story short, writing poetry is a bit like waiting for rain. Sometimes a dry spell is prolonged. Luckily, since it’s National Poetry Month, I’ve been inspired to stay with the process — to dig in and tackle poems that still need “something,” to write new ones, striving to get at the core of the poem in ways that are unique and compelling. Listening for nuance, for a deeper truth. It’s nearly always there. And if I’m persistent, something new is born. My reward? Creative joy, a feeling of grace and lightness, a sense of completion.

“Summer night–
even the stars
are whispering to each other.”
Kobayashi Issa

  • I also write prose, but love dedicating time to poetry; it pulls something different from me — insisting on many things. Wouldn’t the world benefit greatly from more poetry, more readers and students of poetry? Doesn’t a good poem leave you in awe, in a state of wonder?

  Don’t use the phone. People are never ready to answer it. Use poetry.
Jack Kerouac

Thanks so much for dropping by this sunny space for kindred spirits. But now, it’s back to work. Despite inevitable moments of poetic frustration, the stars seem aligned just so this month, and I’m deeply grateful for those lines that take me (and hopefully, others) to a certain time and place. One I can’t reach any other way. Poetry helps us feel our way through life, doesn’t it? Taking us beyond the rough edges into a bright, sacred space that is momentarily captured, then released. Thanks again, see you next Friday, April 24th. ~ dh

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