The Process of My Poetry
When I write a poem, it is all at once, and then I revise it
later; but pretty much the thing is formed in my head and then I just write
it. Like a song that has to be sung.
Of course, the composition is on the 8-1/2 x 11 legal pad of yellow paper. Sometimes I awake in the middle of the night and stumble to the kitchen counter where the 5x7 yellow pad of paper resides beside a small lamp. I click on the lamp, scribble down the words, click off the lamp, and go back to bed.
Bridget the Beagle then gets up, thinking something is happening, and she must be let outside! Dear Husband tends to that duty.
At breakfast, I retrieve the scrawled thoughts and go over them, but not first thing. The first thing is to conduct some online-retail research, check the email accounts, and drink my cuppa with some toasted Sperlonga and cream cheese. There are times when I look at the scribbled lines of poetry and think: I do not remember writing those words.
But write them I did. They are slightly revised when I type them into a computer file; a few days later I edit them, sharpening them like an exquisite blade of beauty for the heart to feel quite painlessly. I cannot predict when a poem is “bubbling up” within me, but I can attest to the fact that when I must put the bubbles to words, other things are happening: cooking, exercising, scrubbing the tub, putting on makeup, brushing my teeth. For me, creativity requires multi-tasking.
Dear Daughter is beginning her Master’s Adventure; she is going to the land where my dreams began. I have therefore purchased stationery for the express purpose of writing to her once a week or so. Opening up the email just does not give a person that cozy feeling! And putting the electronic text into the digital Personal File is just not the same as holding a letter in your hands, and maybe close to your heart.
I shall try to refrain from copying down key phrases from the epistles. I dreaded reading the epistolary novel and so I highly doubt that I shall be creating one at any point in time. There is, I have just learned from online research, the epistolary poem. Yes, indeed, Ovid (Ov-id, not O-vid) first came up with that one. The “aggrieved heroines” (read whining) stating their grievances (whines) to their heroic (perhaps not) lovers.
I shall avoid that form like the plague!
Recently someone commented to me that writing poetry is “sublimation.” I nodded my assent, but I was not in agreement with that statement. In fact, I felt a bit insulted by it, but I try to be as objective as possible about myself, or at least about my work.
I do not always succeed in that effort, but since I am a sensitive person, my attempt is at least laudable. I did not sense any attempt to insult me, but I did discern a put-down of the artistic process. This type of ignorance is one that any creative person encounters, sometimes routinely. The best approach to it is one that can be used as a “life skill” — the deficiency of the other person is no reflection upon your own self, your talents, your selfless act of creation.
The hostile negativity that a person of lesser talents, lesser virtues, lesser humanity projects onto you, the Artist, is a measurement of how that person really feels about himself or herself. Sometimes you have nothing to do with the abrasive slight or the offensive utterance. Other times, you’re the direct though undeserving target. In either event, and in any case, the most apt response is offered by my loving hound, Chance, who has perfected the soft, pleading pout. I call it the Lambur Lamentation, bred into him by the Lambur line of beagles.
If one cannot muster up such noble melancholy, naïve indifference works. I’ve been using it for decades, usually because it takes me months, if not years, to realize I’ve been insulted!
“Drinking” dulls the senses but some people were born that way. In some sense, the envy of the non-creative dullard is a constant in the life of the creative soul, the dreamer who persists in dreaming while others drench their precious consciousnesses with doom-and-gloom.
Dream on, dream up, dream away, and dream with comfort. Very often your dreams signify truths and realities that the fear-obsessed cannot begin to comprehend.
I shall say it now: The artist is often a visionary.
The artist is not always accurate in his vision, but that vision is filled with light and with the hope that leads humanity into the future. We all need dreams and we, sadly, desperately, need dreamers who dare to take an inspiration to that next level: actualization.
The source of my disagreement regarding the mere act of sublimation is my rejection of the belief that art is the result of, and I quote the Random House Dictionary: “the diversion of the energy of a sexual or other biological impulse from its immediate goal to one of a more acceptable social, moral, or aesthetic nature or use.”
It is true that true art is the purification, refinement, and ennoblement of less pure, refined, and noble passions. But no creative individual, be she poet, artist, seamstress, cook in the kitchen or musician, takes her feelings and passions and palpable sensations and diverts them through a fanciful funnel, or minces them, not with the cheese grater, but with some kind of hocus-pocus wand of wonderment into a higher plane of thought.
The process or
path whereby intense emotions and treasured sensations are achingly rendered
into art is not simple sublimation. The
progression toward artistic achievement is a tender but sometimes tormenting
unfolding of unconscious elements in your heart, mind, and soul. That pathway is built with blood, sweat and
The artist pays a very dear price for each brush stroke that she lovingly places upon the canvas, soothing her soul, and healing the souls of others. The writer cannot walk away from a poem until each sound, each syllable, each impulse of that vision sings in harmony with her beating heart. The musician must play that note again and again and again until he arrives at the conclusion that it is the piano that is off-key, and not he!
The art of poetry is thought granted the higher purpose by Divinity. There is probably a chemistry involved between Heaven and Earth, but I’ll trust in things unspoken and unseen to continue with my work that, inevitably, goes on faith. And faith can move mountains. Be your own mustard seed. You exalt not only yourself and your art: The faith that you intimately nurture might just help the too-blinded-by-experience Cynic — to see the Light.
That small miracle is the essence of poetry, and the process to that heaven-on-earth requires more than mere sublimation.
I had a unique experience today, one that I’ve not encountered in several years. It was a day of upsetting undercurrents, of people knocking on the front door, of my beagle barking at each knock, of annoying interruptions in the electricity, of bleary eyes from the smoke-filled air from the Paradise fire.
At last, in late afternoon, I sat on the sofa with my sleeping hound and listened to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The sounds were soothing, vibrant, turbulent, pacific. They matched my moods.
I “saw through” to the past, to a late afternoon one wintry day when I was a young mother of just one child, before I began the adventure of a second pregnancy and the birth of my daughter. It was cold, drizzly, and foggy, and I’d withdrawn to my upstairs room.
I attempted to nap but could not. I began to weep. I was sensing the irreversible changes that were occurring in my life, and outside of my life: the triumphant beginning of the ending of the Cold War and the heralded beginning of a supposedly new era in the United States, in the world.
This afternoon, I sensed the conclusions of those repercussions from decades ago. I “saw through” to the swift, even historic, undercurrents that drove some very dear friends, blindly, forward, with lofty beliefs into risky ventures that would bring them deep sorrow, agonizing sorrow, even doom.
There was no telling them to pursue other paths. Those rare and wondrous individuals were people on a mission to save other people, to rescue their professions, to hold fast to their time-honored ways of life, to try to play the odds and not lose.
I’ve always been one to play the odds and win. In fact, I tend to do better when the odds are against me. And so, I knew, instinctively, the chances of success for these individuals fighting the system and fighting to save a hopeless case: they were some to none.
There came, inevitably, a parting of the ways between me and each of these dear friends. Not because I did not agree with the goals of these individuals. Oh, I certainly found consensus with their arguments as to what was going wrong with their worlds, private and public. I keenly felt their heart-felt sincerity. It was, in fact, their sincerity and those hearts that would get them used up and spit out by other less virtuous people, by bureaucracies, by corporations that had no intention of correcting the wrongs these individuals felt so deeply were altering the world, and their worlds, for the wretched worse.
I saw that I could not take part in their worlds that were, inexorably, slipping away from them. They no longer had any need for me. I knew it, and though they also knew this sad truth, they did not want me to act upon it. They also understood that I could not lie to them, as well as to myself, about that truth. Friendship forbids most deceptions, but especially the two-way pretense.
And I wonder now, as I must have intuitively wondered then, more than 25 years ago, how is it that someone so much younger can know so much more than someone who is so much older?
I have considerable respect for my elders, to a fault. I’ve been told that I grant too much respect to my elders, and, at times, I do. At other times, however, I have opined, and acted upon this opinion, that merely because God placed a person here on this earth before me, that timing does not give that person a monopoly on respect. It’s a two-way street.
With those much-older friends, it was a matter of my knowing without a doubt that they were good-hearted but wrong-headed and headed in a very turbulent direction. My friendships with them silently came to an end over the directions those heads were headed toward, places that would only break their hearts. I could not bear to watch their paths of slow-self-destruction in the face of fraudulent faces that hid malevolence, greed, lunacy.
I wanted to be proven wrong. I wanted the politics of this nation to be what they were paraded as being. I wanted the professions to which these people were committed to return whence they came: businesses and industries of integrity, decency, a stab at honor. I wanted the images in which my friends had so inordinately invested to be as real and enduring and beneficial and trust-worthy as their friendships had been with me.
I wanted to be able to learn that I was wrong and they were right. I knew, nonetheless, that what I wanted would never be. Because what they wanted would never be. A trusting fool is always a trusting fool.
There are now newer fools who trust, in the face of the awful evidence of things those older, even wiser fools trusted. After having watched those newer fools of late, I was able today to “see through” to that momentous parting of the ways from the long ago. That vision brought the “me” of then closer to who I am today.
In that vision, I was not yet a published writer. In many ways, I was not yet even a writer, just an editor of governmentese who saw pictures of the future in poetry and who yearned, with a fierce passion, to construct worlds of fiction in prose that would equal that poetry.
I’ve reached those goals, and, in some ways, have exceeded them. Yet I will forever feel a profound debt to those dear dear souls who were the essence of soul to me. Each felt a commitment to a nobler cause that would be betrayed by so many others. Each heart beat true; it remained true until death and beyond.
Those hearts taught me the roads not to take, even while theirs tilted at their glorious windmills. Their worlds, and my world, became a better place because of them, the individuals of courage and commitment who so nobly reached toward the stars.
I’ve not ever read Don Quixote, or Don Quichotte. I believe nonetheless that I have known and loved him, and her, quite well. They taught me the poetry process more compellingly than any teacher or book could ever hope to do.