05 March 2009

Wherever it takes you.

When you write a poem, do you plan it out ahead of time, or do you just find your inspiration and ride it like a mechanical bull until it throws you off?

We were talking about inspiration today, and how we get there, and I realized that my habits have changed a bit. I used to have to drink red wine and listen to classic rock for a while, and then the muse struck me. Once it did, I had no idea where the poem was going. Often it went places that were inexplicable (and not always in a good way).

Now I tend to go into a poem with 3-5 things I want to accomplish. I'm not sure about the execution, but I know that there will be a Dalmatian, salami, some kind of firearm, a belt buckle, and a pair of fishnets. It's like a game. Find room for all of these things. I ask friends to give me items to work into a poem, and then I get on it. I still end up surprising myself, thankfully.

I've never written a poem that I plotted out ahead of time. How does that work?


In honor of the golden ripe bananas above, here are some tidbits.

The second issue of Weave has a fine lineup. You can even read some of the poems as a preview.

I talk about my idea of heaven in this interview with 32 Poems.

Lost? Confused? Pre-order your copy of Map of the Folded World today.

A new chapbook by one of the most beautiful creatures ever to walk the earth. Try not to swoon, okay? I'm warning you.

PS--Those bananas are not golden or ripe.


Collin Kelley said...

I usually have about three or four lines in my head before I sit down to write, but once those lines hit the page, I'm usually surprised where the poem winds up. I don't like planning out a poem...it seems too much like writing an outline for a novel and takes the spontaneity out of it. For me, anyway.

Lyle Daggett said...

I conceive of poems as three-dimensional (or maybe four-dimensional) geometric structures.

As a poem starts to take shape, I also will get a few things in mind that I want in the poem -- thin grass on low sloping ground, a pine bluff across a narrow channel on a northern lake, sitting in a room talking with a friend ten years ago, early bird sounds outside the window, a radio news report last week about the military, etc.

These things exist in relation to each other, in connection with each other, in time and space, and these connections form a geometric shape. As the poem starts to come to me little by little, or sometimes almost all at once, I begin to sense the geometric shape of the poem.

Once I can feel the complete geometry of it -- it might be only a quick flicker or glimpse, the way a landscape is briefly illuminaed by lightning -- at that point, the poem is ready to start writing it down.

I don't necessarily have the whole poem planned out ahead of time, though I often will let it take shape, exist and form in the silence before words, for a while before I start writing it down.

I don't normally work in multiple drafts. Usually I start by writing the first line, and I keep going line by line, crossing out and rewriting if I need to as I go. If I get to a point where I'm not sure what comes next, usually I'll let the poem sit till I know what next is.

I may need to wait an hour or two, or a day or two, or weeks or months, or once in a while years. I have poems that I've let sit, half-finished, for ten or twelve years, going back and looking at them for a few minutes frequently, sometimes almost daily, the whole time, till finally I find what the next line needs to be, and I've finished the poems. It takes concentration to do this.

Not all poems are long drawn-out like that. I also have poems that came out fully formed and complete, that I worked on for a total of 20 or 30 minutes once I started writing them down. How long or short I spend working on a poem, how much I cross out and rewrite or leave it along, appears to have nothing to do with whether the poem gets published. I've published poems that I wrote all of the above ways.

whirly-girl said...

Sometimes I have something--a word, a phrase, a smell, a color, a memory, a mis-hearing of something I saw or read or listened to on a CD or whatever--in my head. Sometimes I force myself into it by pulling out books of poems from a few very different poets and fixating on one poem from each, maybe just a stanza or a line, and then playing (which sometimes means re-writing the poem in entirely reverse order--last word to first--or writing a line that remixes the ones I am looking at by including a modge podge of words from each poem, or whatever), and then putting that aside and free-writing wherever my head takes me and pushing forward.

From ONE of those two methods, I tend to get a lot of my stuff--even if it's just the trigger-stuff. Sometimes, research on something--old journals from someone not alive, the anatomy of a broccoli stem, whatever--will become trigger. And then something tends to take shape from there.

Sometimes I have actual lines in my head, or phrases, and all of that other 'play' isn't what I go to to "get me into the mood." And when I have those words stuck in my head I can tap into that little well inside me, draw a bucket of poem-water, and then mold and shape and fuss with and...

But I don't plan out poems exactly. I had too much of that in my MFA program, and in particular in one workshop. I mean, I know that if all else fails I *can* do that (5 stanzas of tersets, 2 stanzas of couplets and those will be indented in the first line, a play on the verb "jump," five references to architecture and blueprints, something all written in the third person masculine, a metaphor for rehabilitation...). And I feel, sometimes, if it seems like I am writing TOO MUCH the same poem--or the same line of thought, feeling, or questioning over and over again--that those sorts of restrictions help shake me in directions that make me fall in love with writing--and my writing--in its entirety--all over again.

My goal all semester is to write 2 poems for each week. I'm gearing up to finish this damn manuscript. With the week I have had (bronchitis, sinus infection, fever, too many meds to count...), I haven't written anything for my workshop on Monday. I need to resort, mos def, to my 'playful' and 'assignment-ish' means this weekend...

jeannine said...

Most of the time, I am triggered by something I read (books, articles, graffiti) or hear (music, conversation) or see (art, landscape, etc) - and then the poem is usually born all at once. Sometimes only parts of a poem are born - an arm, if we go with that metaphor, or just the feet. Then I have to come back and rebuild the poem until the whole baby is there.
Sorry, that seems like an abject metaphor, come to think of it.
The last thing I was inspired by was a Time Magazine article from 1964.

John Gallaher said...

I enjoyed the interview. Ah, music. I'm getting a pretty decent instrumental jazz collection together. That's what I mostly like to listen to at work and while writing. My newest discoveries are Cannonball Adderley and Milt Jackson.

Maggie May said...

I usually write based on a feeling, I'd say 80% of the time I get a strong feeling from an experience: a noise, an image, a sound, and write it out. The other 20% of the time I hear a phrase, and that phrase demands to be grown up into a big boy poem. :)

Bailey said...

That picture offends me.

Lion Poet said...

i wonder why people say "that guy went bananas"?

are bananas inherently crazy?

word verification for today: unlodi