"Then something weird happened. I wrote a poem about it. I didn't mean to, but all of a sudden, it was like there was another SOMETHING in the room, like a ghost. You know how you feel like there's breath on your neck? I didn't know how long it would last, so I grabbed a pen and I wrote down everything I could about that moment.
What I wrote didn't make sense at first, but then I remembered what my dad told me once about his work––that he tried to make his poems like spells (good ones, not evil) so that when someone heard one, the listener would be haunted by the spirit of the poem, as he was when he wrote it. So I went back and tried to make the pieces I'd written fit into a pattern, like I was trying to make a picture of that ghost out of words." ---From Letters From Rapunzel
That's about as close as I can get to pinning down the mystery that is a poem arriving. When I'm not in character, I try to grow as a poet by doing two things:
1) I'm learning not to turn away when I feel that ghost in the room. I run for pen and paper, no matter how weird the initial impulse is. I know now that it comes when I'm folding laundry ("On turning a T-shirt right side out") or when I'm driving down a barren road in January ("The Bones of January.") And once I have my pen in hand, I don't stop until I've pursued the thought deep into wherever it came from. I don't ask it why it came or what it is; I just follow, doggedly, leaving as many rich breadcrumbs along my path as I can.
2) Once I've paused for breath following the initial "running after," I gently bump the glimpses I've recorded against one another, to see what happens. I try not to overwork it, or to force the words to line up in a row. It's more like I'm writing music, and I'm listening for overtones of both sound and meaning. (You guys know I'm not musical, but I swear I hear this with my body.) What I try to do is not destroy the initial pursuit, but to lay it out so the reader can go with me. This is what I said about it in the comments section at Hiraeth last Poetry Friday:
Strange as it may sound, I think of poems as enchantments. The poet is casting a spell, and the reader, by saying aloud or reading those same words, is casting the same spell. Or if you don't like magical metaphors, a poem is like a liturgy. Yes, it's written, but its purpose is to be a living ritual that takes you beyond the words.And that, my poetry friends, is as deep as I'm willing to go today.
Poetry Friday is hosted by Literary Safari this week.