Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Some Thoughts On Poetry

The closest word is alchemy. Making something out of something else; not base to gold necessarily. More often base to base but, of course, there is no heirarchy of image or experience
in transformation.

I might start with the act of throwing a ball against a wall. The wall might turn into the outer wall of my father's drugstore and with the ferocity of my throws I make a portal into his store, his profession, his life.

I might wonder what that act of throwing a ball is all about. How it returns to my waiting hands
or how it bounces off some ledge out of my reach. How this expectation of return is re-enacted throughout my life. Or how the landing of a ball into a hoop or side pocket or an eighteenth hole
can be a metaphor for arrival and embrace.

The wall could be the one my brother drove his car into 45 years ago as if summoned to get through to the other side when he heard a piece of music not possible in this world. Or the bank of bushes I steered a sled into as a kid with two friends on my back. Or it could be the wall my deaf daughter has learned to climb or even the I scaled 25 years ago, as if dodging searchlights and hounds, to start my new life with Peggy.

In my poetry I usually start with a vivid image or even a single word which conjures a moment in time and into which I can enter and rumage around. The days I can live within the poem, outside of time and place, are my great joy. The product is less important than the process.

A few years ago I spotted a picture of my parents vacationing in upstate New York. The photo was dated June, 1932. Since this was exactly nine months before my birth I decided this must have been my time of conception and as such the first picture of me in the twinkle of my father's eye and the coquettish turn of my mother's head. Maybe. Maybe not. But it is my truth. The facts of a poem are subordinated to the truth of the fabrication.

If I'm lucky I learn something about myself in the writing. When a friend offered me some Macadamia nuts I declined without thinking because I had always said no to nuts. I sat down
to write about the interchange and was brought back to all my food dislikes. From there I was struck by other ideas I had not re-visited in many years. Where did they come from? Is it time to circle back? Is change possible and how does it happen? The poem becomes the agency for
interior exploration.

I don't mean to imply that the poem can be willed. There is nothing so daunting and at the same time exhilerating as the blank page. I sit and stare and allow a flotilla of flotsam to wash over me.
Some stay afloat, some sink. I have to hear my voice or I disown it. If it is too deliberate, too earnest, too pleading, too much like the six o'clock news, too pretty it deserves the delete key.

If I have written some lines which take me to an unexpected place and possibly of inexplicable
origin then I am very pleased. If the poem can be paraphrased perhaps it would have been better served by a paragraph.


  1. I'm taking a chance here in answering. I are under suspicion by the Gods of Google Blogs and I fear I may be tarred with the same brush; ie: Guilt by ablogsiation. So I'll be quick and just say how nicely you have described the creative mind and process of a poet. Ah, if you would only rhyme.


  2. The slow insight that comes from observing a life - your own - and finding the words that fit the image, that fit the moment, is what transforms talking about poetry into a poem. Your insights touch and teach me and your poems always enlightens.

  3. I also think about the Berlin Wall, no longer working, and the Palestine Wall, still working.

    I agree. Paraphrase can't capture poetry just as observation can't capture living.