18 August 2008

What do you need, and why?

I used to be really freaked out by the act of writing poetry. It felt spooky. Sometimes I sat down to do it, and nothing happened. Sometimes it did happen, but the results weren't worth the time spent. And sometimes it was magical.

I tend to organize my poems by seasons (well, by semester, really). There are some seasons where I only wrote one good poem. I let the ordinary world interfere. I let the spookiness spook me.

Sometimes it can be helpful to identify the elements that make poems come out easier. Here are my poem writing essentials. I bet they're different from yours. So tell me about it.

Poem writing essentials:

1. Time. I need 40 minutes to write a poem, but that doesn't mean it will be done in 40 minutes, or that it won't be done in 20. I just need to know that for 40 minutes, I will not be answering emails or the door. I won't pick up the phone. I just need a 40 minute stretch.

2. Scribbles. Even if it never makes it into the poem, I need a line or an image or a stupid turn of phrase to get me started. Maybe it makes me feel like I'm not really starting from scratch. Strangely, I get most of my ideas when I'm at the grocery store, and I write them on the back of my list.

3. Computer. I'd like to be the kind of person who always writes poems by hand (it's so sexy, you know?). Unfortunately, I can type much faster than I can write, and I edit as I type, even it it's a memo, so computer it is.

4. Internet. This is even more embarrassing. But I need to google things when I am writing. Some day I should teach a seminar on things I've learned from google and put in poems. Thankfully I have just enough will power to avoid facebook when I'm writing. Unless it's for research. Yeah.

5. OPP. I definitely need other people's poems to get mine started. Whether it's to get the creative juices flowing (I hate that expression, don't you?) or to write an imitation, or a response poem, or to remind myself why I save 40 minutes to do this in the first place. I have my favorites. Being jealous of someone else's poem helps me, too.

6. Somewhere else to go when it's done. If I don't leave the poem alone after 40 minutes, I'll probably dismantle it and possibly delete more than necessary. So I save and close. And then revisit.

So what are your essentials? Maybe we should try swapping essentials and see what happens.


Leslie said...

1. I need hours and nothing pressing on my table before I feel empty enough to sit down and write.

2. OPP absolutely. I get sparked by reading poems—not necessarily anything specific, but I think just the language and the rhythms of other people's poems tend to spark me.

3. Ditto with the computer. I type MUCH faster than I write, so I tend to type poems. That said, I carry a journal everywhere to scribble lines, phrases, words, ideas, sometimes whole poems. I tend to mine the journals while at the computer.

4. I don't have a time limit, but once I have a draft down, I have to be able to flee the scene. My most reliable indicator that I've written something worthwhile is me running away, freaked out, afraid to open the laptop, sometimes for days.

5. My house. Or whatever I'm calling home that month or year. I don't write in museums, cafes, parks, parked cars, libraries, offices, pretty much anywhere except home.

6. Hot tea. Me=Pavlov's dog. I've written so much while sitting at home drinking tea that now just the smell or even idea of tea tends to make me want to curl up with a pile of books and my trusty ibook.

Collin said...

1. Good music
2. My laptop
3. A box of wine
4. A separate tab opened to an online dictionary
5. All of the above in a hotel room or quiet cafe in London or Paris.

Justin Evans said...

1. If I hand write any draft, the paper I use needs to be immaculate. Perfect. If one stray twitch marks the paper I have to start with new paper.

2. The spark. I cannot sit down to write without the conceit or the idea.

3. An uninterrupted few minutes to get it going. That is if I am busy with people. If I am by myself writing, I cannot be interrupted or the entire poem is lost.

4. A bed or comfortable couch to write if I am writing longhand.

5. No prying eyes. I can't even think someone is watching me to write. It can be busy and crowded, but no one had better be 'watching' me.

M. C. Allan said...

1. Good music -- but not music with lyrics or my brain gets too into them and starts parroting them on the page. (This applies to poetry only; lyrics are fine when I'm writing fiction. Who knows why.)
2. Coffee/water/something else to sip. Don't care too much what, but I do like to crunch ice with my teeth while writing.
3. I'm with Justin on the paper, and have to add that I cannot write poetry with a crappy ballpoint pen. Not that picky about anything else, but when writing longhand must have pen with good flow.
4. Ditto on the watching. Even if the ideas are still there, even if they're not reading over my shoulder, writing with an audience feels like exhibitionism.

jeannine said...

1. I am ashamed to say this, since it will make me seem really slow, but I need almost 4-8 hours with nothing in my way to write. Sometimes less (car dealerships and doctor's offices are two places I can write faster,) but on days when I'm doing a lot of stuff, I'm not writing.
2. Music, art, movies, non-fiction books about weird subjects, comics - you know, inspiration material!
3. I write on paper maybe half the time, and those poems are always short. The poems I work on at the computer usually are longer, and soemtimes turn into two or three poems (maybe this is part of the slow writing mentioned above - I tend to write more than one poem at a time.)
Good posts, Mary!

Michael said...

1. I generally start in my journal. Maybe 65% of the time as opposed to computer. I do like to revise on the computer though.

2. I need 40 minutes to an hour to get it going. I can be anywhere and have started poem in the car, at a park, waiting room at the doctor's office, Starbucks and at home. I think that is one reason I like using a journal... the portability.

3.I like to have a line from something to get me started. I may well drope it later, but it's a point at which to begin.

4. I feel a bit like a cheat but I do like to have a thesaurus close at hand. At least by the time I'm doing a rewrite.

5. I like to have read a poem or two by someone else - just to set the mood.

M. Cherry said...

1) I like to write by hand because I type way faster than I write; it makes me take my time. Also, there's something almost erotic about putting ink on paper.

If at home, I use my fancy-shmancy Italian fountain pen. If out and about, I use a trusty Pilot V7.

Usually I revise on computer, but preferably no sooner than the fourth or fifth draft.

2) I wish I were one of those people with a regular daily writing schedule, but usually I wait for something to trigger a poem. Often, reading other poetry does this. It's like being thirsty; it's difficult to describe the feeling, but I know when I need to drink.

3) I prefer to write either in silence or amidst unorganized noise, such as in a coffeehouse. I don't like to write while listening to music, because it influences the writing too much; I prefer to let the unconscious mind emerge without manipulation.

4) It seems that I also work best with some sort of deadline looming, such as a poem due in workshop. Or even for an informal writing group. I'm more productive when there's an immanent prospect of my poem actually being read/heard by other people.

newzoopoet said...

I need a window. And to be home alone.

Don't be ashamed, Jeannine. I need long periods of time, too. :)

Oliver de la Paz said...

These are in no order:

1. I need one hour, at least.
2. I need tunes--anything, just so I can fight it back with my brain . . .
3. Access to poetry books . . . lots and lots of poetry books.
4. A challenge--some times challenges take the form of someone's line, an assignment either from an external source or an internal one, a deadline.
5. Definitely a computer. I don't compose long hand. I used to, but I like to edit as I write and my penmanship is lousy. I also like to see what a poem "looks" like.

Dominic Rivron said...

What do I need? Among other things, the classic transparent plastic bic biro (black ink). For me, nothing else feels quite so good to write with. And no, I don't work for bic!:)

Also, I can relate to what you say about getting ideas in the grocery store: ideas always seem to come to me when it's least convenient.

Tilt Press said...

I need:

Usually between 20-60 minutes.
A solid first line.

greg rappleye said...


Good one!

My "requirements" are up at my blog.

Amy said...

A deadline! Gimme a damn deadline. That's all I need.

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