On the heels of last week’s poem about processes, I have to wonder who first came up with the idea of mapping them out. Like, writing down a recipe or the rules for playing a game or basic instructions for assembling furniture from IKEA. All of these are good, helpful things, but once we got going, we couldn’t seem to stop. Like toddlers who can’t resist sticking things in electrical outlets, scientists (and middle managers) can’t resist sticking things into equations and flowcharts, where they’re boiled down, logically explained, objectively measured, improved upon, and turned into a boring PowerPoint presentation.
One of our poetry class assignments was to define our poesy process (the method we use to create poems). I wrote a paragraph every week on this topic. In it, I offered specifics about each piece, where the idea had come from and how I’d developed it, but no general rule or magic formula ever emerged. Years later, the “explanation” of my process became its own poem, a Ghazal:
HOW A POEM HAPPENS
A memory or feeling or notion strikes me, igniting the words.
Muses storm inside my head; a bolt of lightning, The Words!
I take down dictation as from a faucet splurting and gushing,
pen racing to keep up; in my slapdash handwriting, the words
I look at them, climb inside of them—seeing, hearing, feeling;
searching for a common theme underlying, uniting the words
I type, cut and paste, rearrange phrases, shuffle them around,
restoring order to the chaos and somehow, righting the words
They choose a form—sestina or sonnet, limerick or free verse
I guide and slide them into it, finessing, not fighting the words
They coalesce into a poem, a fragile but complete work of art
I read it aloud, ears alert for glitches while reciting the words
Revision, my relentless quest for the perfect among the good,
is well-meaning but a bit overzealous, often smiting the words
I stop myself tossing them into the trash, where they belong.
After a walk or a nap, they’re brilliant and exciting, the words
I wield my thesaurus, more gently this time, until fit and flow
merge into music; I chant it to myself, delighting in the words
Instruments of the Great Creator, my hands, my pen, my voice
God’s Gracious Gift gives back to Him, wellspring of the words
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