How a Poem Happens



The newborn arrives in a taxi cab, at home, in a delivery room and somehow every birth is unique. So too with poems. But often my process works this way.

1. A friend, a book, an event yields a general prompt. Most recently my key words were hidden and obvious. These from my friend Bill Roberts, who manages an online writing group.

2. Doubt sets in. I cannot write about these words. I don’t do concept poems that extol or deride or explain an idea. Shakespeare said it best in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ” . . . the poet’s pen / . . . gives to airy nothing / A local habitation and a name.”

3. With persistence in my journal I can usually  locate an experience that yields to the prompt. Experience always happens somewhere. It has a local habitation. And this setting yields images, sensations and energy, the raw materials of a poem.

4. I find the words–mostly nouns and verbs–that convey these images with economy and music. The words will fill and fit the mouth. They will feel almost like conversation, but mindfully chosen.

5. Writing down all I can about the experience, I censor nothing, welcome the stuttering and the tripping, willingly fall down the rabbit hole. Fall into whatever is strange, fanciful, new, true. Especially new and true.

6. Discover by trial and error the structure and the insight.

7. Delight and rest.

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