POETRY IN 10 NOT-SO-EASY STEPS

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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25 thoughts on “POETRY IN 10 NOT-SO-EASY STEPS

  1. Tippy Gnu May 27, 2018 / 9:43 am

    That process sounds quite chaotic, much like the way our universe was created. You should really do a Powerpoint.

    I can’t remember who it was, but I remember someone describing writing as the process of sitting at your typewriter and slicing open your wrists. Dredging up one’s soul is not always pretty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 27, 2018 / 2:04 pm

      Thanks, Tippy. It is a bit chaotic, isn’t it? Muses don’t just wait for you to sit down at your desk and whisper the poem into your ear, word for word. No, they give you ideas and phrases and rhymes while you’re sleeping, or taking a shower, or stirring a pot of spaghetti sauce so you have to run for your notebook and pen with one eye open, dripping wet, or while your dinner scorches to the bottom of the pan. You write it down for two reasons… 1) so you don’t forget, and 2) to shut them up. But once the Muses have control of your hand, they don’t want to shut up and you really don’t want them to. Your stenography of their dictation is a henscratch puzzle, a secret code you have to break if you want the poem. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t. Whoever said that about slicing open your wrists was right on the money, the act of writing is blissful agony. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tippy Gnu May 27, 2018 / 5:18 pm

        Those muses can be pretty annoying, it’s true. But best to let them have their way, if you want any quality in your writing.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 27, 2018 / 1:49 pm

      Thanks, PB. My process of writing poetry is hard to explain, but there are certain phases that seem always to happen: inspiration, scribbling really fast, looking at the mess of scribbles and trying to figure out what to do with it, arranging it some logical order, looking for rhymes or rhythms or other clues as to the form, actually building it and seeing if it holds together, improving it, improving it so much that I hate it and want to throw it out, saving it anyway/letting it cool, taking a second look and liking it all over again (or not), making a few minor adjustments, calling it a day, trying it out on other people at my poetry group. I have a giant folder full of false starts, Muse Lightning that fizzled. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • pranabaxom May 27, 2018 / 2:07 pm

        I wish I had a process. Sadly only thing I relate to is a sense of restlessness, a idea that just wants to bubble out. Once ir is out, I have moments that I don’t want to disturb with editing. During all my years at school, very rarely I have caught a mistake during revision of my answers to quizzes and tests. I must be a lousy self editor so I have learnt to live at peace with my mistakes😢

        Liked by 1 person

  2. PJ Payne May 27, 2018 / 8:40 pm

    All I can say is ‘The Words’! There is no process in poetry… “It does its do.” Word!
    PJ Payne

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 31, 2018 / 3:51 pm

      Thanks, PJ. Mine is an extremely LOOSE process. 🙂

      Like

  3. L. T. Garvin, Author May 31, 2018 / 3:06 pm

    Such a nice Ghazal, Joan. The creative process is a wonderful and mysterious thing, a bit different for everyone. You have so many good lines here, I really like the idea of “climbing inside the words,” and the words “merging into music.” The Muse is a quick dictator and we really do have to race to keep up sometimes. The only thing I didn’t agree here was that any of your wonderful words belong in the trash. I’d say that you have a way with words for sure. Speaking of that, it is Rattle prize poetry time again 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan May 31, 2018 / 4:01 pm

      Thanks, Lana. The process of climbing inside the words is akin to decoding them–figuring out how they go together and what they are trying to say. The part about the trash has to do with over-revising a piece or trying to hammer it into a particular mold. When I feel that frustration building, stepping away and returning to it later often helps. I’m Rattling my Word folders right now, shaking down a few gems to send in. Heck, even if you don’t win, you get four beautiful issues of Rattle magazine, well worth the cost of submission. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. philipbrockman June 5, 2018 / 12:41 am

    There are a couple of guys living north of me, in Cache County, Graham Russell & Russell Hitchcock. They were famous for being Air Supply, but to me, it was their ability to rearainge lines to become more pervasive of the theme. More dynamic and even directional.
    If you really edited this work to its fruition, then bravo for a magnificent production. I’m not saying it’s Jesus Christ SuperStar, but it’s certainly on its way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 5, 2018 / 7:27 pm

      Thanks, Philip! Air Supply was hot stuff in my day. Comedian Tim Hawkins could give Graham and Russell a lesson on changing their songs as they age: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-IMnoG_8y0&start_radio=1&list=RDo-IMnoG_8y0. I’m prone to over-editing (a close cousin of over-thinking), the process by which one goes from liking some of a poem to hating all of it. Having my work compared to Jesus Christ Superstar makes my head spin. FYI: Ted Neeley and Barry Dennen autographed a poem I wrote when they visited our town in 2015. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • philipbrockman June 7, 2018 / 3:13 am

        Wow, maybe you’re closer than I was thinking. Congrats and super cool. May your writing continue to impress.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just Joan June 7, 2018 / 10:26 am

        Thanks, Philip. With Jesus’s (aka Ted Neeley’s) blessing, how could I go wrong? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 8, 2018 / 7:43 am

      Thanks, Robbie. Poems about poetry are a sort of Nirvana for me… like shining a mirror into a mirror and peeking into eternity. 🙂

      Like

    • Just Joan June 9, 2018 / 2:39 pm

      Thanks, Max. Maybe it mimics your own process in some way? I love seeing your posts pop up in my reader, that Rappin’ vibe obliquely wound around a vocabulary lesson that elbows me in the ribs with an insight about life. The whole package. Keep ’em coming, Max. 🙂

      Like

  5. Quirky Girl June 14, 2018 / 7:57 pm

    I’ve always viewed the whole writing process as chaos… And your poetic words seem to confirm that very view. 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 15, 2018 / 12:02 pm

      Thanks, Quirky. Chaos is integral to writing… Muses don’t just liquefy their words and pour them directly into your brain. They like mischief, so they spill them and stomp in the puddles or launch them like water balloons. Make us work for it, you know? 🙂

      Like

  6. Andra Boudreau June 14, 2018 / 11:32 pm

    Oh, I can’t even express how wonderful it is to read your words! I have come back to writing poetry after many years of being away…..and I must say, the fact that I know EXACTLY what you’re talking about makes me feel like I’ve come home – to myself and to this collective community of writers & poets who can so relate to the compulsion and exuberance that comes with this process! I signed up for a writing class and began last week – haven’t been in a college classroom in almost 30 years. I feel ecstatic. I can so relate to your above comment about decoding the words, or as I just told a friend “cracking the code”. So glad my eyeballs landed randomly on your poem tonight. It was just what I needed. Thank you 🙂 P.S. I go through that same cycle of love, love, loving a work to suddenly (or gradually after reading it 500 times) hate, hate, hating it! Ha….the pain….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan June 15, 2018 / 12:36 pm

      Welcome, Andra, and thanks for the comment! Three years ago, after retiring from a long career in a scientific field, I audited a poetry class at the local university just for fun. It was, by far, the best $150 I’ve ever spent. Muses are concerned with art, not convenience. They come at odd times. They deliver all the necessary pieces, but with no assembly instructions. I like a bit of structure, a few rules or a form to follow, but the rules or the form have to fit the parts they handed you. You can’t play Chinese checkers with Monopoly money. The love-hate thing is common, I think–we get so caught up in the words that we forget what we were trying to say. Glad the poem resonated with you, have fun perusing here on JJ42. 🙂

      Like

  7. circumstance227 July 9, 2018 / 6:03 pm

    In a hundred years, I could never write a poem like this. So talented, you! It also doesn’t help that I don’t really have a process. I have a plan. And sometimes I stick to it. Sometimes I don’t. The results are often better in the second case.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just Joan July 9, 2018 / 8:01 pm

      Thanks, 227. Mine is a very loose process and this is the best I can explain it. When I ask other poets how they write poems, they use different words but say essentially the same thing. The Muses hand them a bowl of alphabet soup and it’s up to them to figure out what to do with it. Also that they rework the poem so much they end up hating it. I always save prior drafts in case my “improvements” don’t work out. 🙂

      Like

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