Thursday, March 14, 2013

Starting a Poem

So poetry is not my forté, but one can only improve with practice and lately I've been practicing a lot. One thing I've noticed about my progression from rhyming poems that sound like'TwasThe Night Before Christmas to writing complicated form poems like the villanelle is that the only way to start a poem, for me, is to just do it. Too often, I get an idea for a poem that I am immediately attached to. Deviation from the concept is not an option. But this desire to control the poem limits the open-mindedness that I believe is required for summoning surprising metaphors and creative language.

My former teacher, Suzanne Roberts, who is a celebrated poet and a national book award winner, once told me that the first draft of the poem serves to show the writer what the poem is about. For instance, I wrote a draft of a poem about the various personalities of boyfriends throughout my life (believe me you can write a decent poem about this). The final draft of the poem turned out to be divided into stanzas labelled by my age in each, and while the appearance of the men in each stanza followed some of the original theme, the poem ended up actually being about disappointment in past experiences with men (boyfriends, friends, family members) and hope for a better outcome in the future. I would share the poem drafts here but I have submitted the final for publication and many publishers don't like to take previously published work. Blogs are sometimes considered "previously published" but that's a different topic I will touch on later.The point is, start with a concept, but don't get too attached to it. The essence of the poem will reveal itself to you in later drafts and the poem will be all the better for it.Here is an easy exercise for starting a poem to help you loosen your control:

1) Write a poem based on a nonsensical dream you've had.

2) At the end of writing this first draft, try to make some sense of it. Look for a place where a specific meaning occurs to you, whether it is a rational link between meaning and dream or not.

3) Write a new draft about this meaning that has nothing to do with your dream.

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