8 June 2017
Poetic Process: Thursday Thoughts
The end result of the poetic process, however we define it, is the poem. Whether the poem be good, indifferent or bad, depends on a set of critical value judgments of which the poet may or may not be aware at the time of writing. The end product must be allowed to look after itself. But what about the process?
The question is simple, but the answer is more difficult, because the actual nature of the process will vary with each one of us. If the end point is the poem, how do we write the poem, what is its starting point? Is it when we sit down to write? Is it when the pen nib (yes, I still write the old-fashioned way) makes contact with the paper? Is there a pre-writing starting point and if so, where does that begin? Is it in the poet’s head, or the poet’s eyes? Does it reside in touch or scent? Good questions: no answers other than the failsafe … it depends.
One thing that has emerged from this KIRA retreat is that above all we need time to be artists. Art and poetry take time, and artists, whatever their medium, need time to think, time to practice, time to splash paint on canvas, time to sit down and put their head in their hands and meditate … “What is this life,” writes W. H. Davies, the great Welsh poet, “if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”
Elise Muller came up with an interesting exercise for developing self-expression. “Write down a question with your dominant hand,” she said. “Then answer it by writing with your less dominant hand.” I tried this. “What do you mean by writing process?” my right hand asked. My right hand held the pen about half an inch from the page and made me stop … and think. I thought about the critical analyses, usually ultra-academic, that I had written and read over the years. Then I started to organize them into do’s and don’ts. The thoughts of certain serious writers sprang to mind … then I switched my pen to my left hand.
Uncontrolled, uncontrollable thoughts came tumbling out and spilled off the end of the pen on to the empty page that rapidly filled with visual and verbal images: evening falls and the stars grow into flowers in the darkness … three deer enter an empty field and dance on the dandelions … the sky fills with snowflakes that erase, one by one, all the objects in the yard … the tide flows back in and the bay recovers its memories of silver fish beneath the waves … the half -empty / half-full glass becomes meaningless: its essence is to filter the sunshine and to sparkle with light … clouds gather into small, wooly herds and the wind chases them across the sky …
To be filled with poetry and creativity we must first be emptied of the cares of the world. Then, when our heads are empty and free there is space for them to fill with the most beautiful images and ideas. This creative process needs time. Time to download and forget our worries. “Time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheep and cows” (W. H. Davies again). Time to be ourselves. Time tobe. Time to become one with nature.
To gain this state of freedom, we need to be free of financial cares and woes. We need to escape from domestic duties. We need to be alone (when we need to be alone) and among friends of a like mind (when we need company). “The time to see when woods we pass, where squirrels hide their nuts in grass” (W. H. Davies, yet again). So, in the poetic process, we need that freedom to create, to cut the ties that bind so tightly, to walk and watch and stop and stare. When that old, tired head is empty, the poetry will flow back in. And it will be a poetry not of grinding ideas but of dancing metaphors and sparkling words. “A dull life this, if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”
KIRA has gifted me with this time, this quality time. Clare and the WYPOD and my Fictional Friends and the Thursday Grunts and my fellow New Brunswick writers have encouraged me to take advantage of it. The process is in process. Some of the results are already being seen on these pages.
My thanks to all those who made this adventure possible. I would also like to thank all those who now facilitate this process every day.