Tuesday, March 27, 2007

TheWriting of a Poem

I love when Ces or Andrea or Val or Carla shows the process and progress of making art. Probably because of my inexperience, I can't very well explain the process and progress of my writing. But in this post I want to try.

THE PROMPT: Last night at the Big Yellow writing group, the prompt was a song. I'd never heard it before but as I listened I wrote down a few words or phrases, among them "I don't care", "bluebirds who flew home", "Here I am", "You could cry or die or just make pies all day" and "picture of my sweetheart". I look for ideas and inspiration when I jot down words like these.

THE MOOD: It might be how I feel that moment as I sit on the big yellow couch, but often I'm influenced by how I felt about my day, my life in general, or where I'm at in relation to someone or something else. Yesterday was punctuated with the serious sensitivity I sometimes carry around, including my ever-challenging desire to be a true, good person who gives and receives love fairly, with both temperance and zest, and by a fantastic meal of roasted chicken and mashed potatoes cooked by jb and shared with our two good friends.

CONSTRUCTION: As I was listening to the prompt, I wrote: "I don't care if the distance spans the decade". I started my poem with that line. From that I chose the title. Then I started writing. Nerissa allows about 40 minutes to write. I try to write a complete piece and then go back to edit, but because I know I have to be ready to read out loud when Nerissa says "Stop", most often I write, go back and change, write some more, and go back and change again. I've learned to reread and replace weak words with stronger more descriptive ones (for example, hopeful grief became splendid grief) and to delete unnecesary words. I am always surprised by how many words I actually can get rid of. I try extra hard to make the first line and last line impactful--the best writing I can--especially the last, which if I'm lucky will make a point or tie things together. I also like to repeat words and recurrent "themes"--actually, they ususually find me before I find them. In this case, it started with the "pies" from the prompt and expanded to baking and rising and then falling. And carrying the ten sticks came from a recent Tarot reading that told me that carrying a certain burden was worth it.
So here it is: Last night's poem from the Big Yellow:

I Don’t Care

I don’t care if the distance spans the decades
And the patterns never form,
If I never understand even the small photo—
where you are standing beside Jack,
The one where you look straight into the camera
your arm hanging over his shoulder, cradling his cracked smile,
The one where you tried so hard
To keep it together
Even when the fragments flew.

I don’t care if the bluebirds turn around and
Head back to what was never home,
That place we began but never finished,
That corner where we tried to intersect
But instead fell apart
in just that broken moment
When I told you I would endure
And you told me that was worthless.

I don’t care that I am baking pies today,
My senses somersaulting from the memory
Of my mother’s hands,
Moving back and forth
Kneading back and forth,
Following a rhythm I never learned—
A rhythm I think about at midnight
When my dreams will not keep still.

I would watch her dice and slice
Those moments so skillfully
I did not know my childhood was over
Until the day I left home,
Until the day you left me.
Until this day,
When all I can do
Is roll out the dough
And try to rise along with it,
Even when I know so well
I will clearly fall again.

I don’t care that I cannot maintain
Hope that cannot be sifted
In any form but by its splendid grief.
If I thought it was enough
To carry those ten sticks to town,
Just to hold them and push forward,
I would do that.
Gladly. Totally. Certainly.
I would open your garden gate
And ring your bell
And wait in place
Until the door opened
And there you were,
Scowling at my folly
To dare to come at all.

I would try to tell you
That somewhere so deep
I have never found my way
I believe there is a rising rhythm
That makes things right.
I would offer you my sticks
And then I would put my arms
Behind my back, barely moving,
Clenching with a driving hope
That you know that
I don’t care
Really means
I never learned
Not to.


  1. This poem is beautiful kj. I'm going to re-read it and reflect ....

  2. What a great insight to how you come up with your poems kj. I'm glad you shared this.

  3. i love the poem, kj! i'm so glad you shared your process with us...i find that so interesting to hear how people create...

  4. Funny how, when one normally writes a poem, the process you describe is often followed subconsciously.
    When I write a poem, I am usually already in the mood of writing that poem. So the prompt is ready and so is the mood. The construction then flows freely until I am happy with the poem.
    Just like "following a rhythm I never learnt"...
    And I am really happy with your poem!

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  6. I'll have to admit that I'm not very knowledgeable about poetry, and I did study literary styles when I read English, but I have forgotten. Shame. I'm sure there is a name for the structure of your poetry, but I find that unimportant. What I do recognize is that it is well written, it is enjoyable. Even to a non poetry lover like myself, so it must be good.
    I'm glad that you shared this methodology with me, it is new and different to me.
    Thanks for that.
    I like something different.

  7. Wow ... KJ ... this is awesome. Firstly, to read your poetry process! Do you find that the last line presents itself to you when you get there, or do you have it in mind as you go? My last lines are usually totally unknown until I get to the end of the poem ... it's so hard to trust that they'll be there, but they always are.

    Secondly, that is one hell of a poem and there so much I love about it that my comment would be a mile long. Know that I will read it again and again, and savor it.


  8. I enjoyed reading about your process for this piece. It fascinated me a several levels - the first is simply that I am interested how you create...it really does add a wonderful dimension to the finished "product." I am also really interested to see how it compares to creating a visual piece. Of course, as tmany writers and visual artist there are; there will be approaches to creation... And finally, since I teach creative writing, I am always interested to learn about how writers' groups do their thing:>

    The poem is really compelling! it will need several more readings, but on my third reading, I can say that I am moved forward by the rhythm and pacing along with the force of your thought process. Writing poetry and creating a piece of visual art are really not so different... both translate feelings, concepts, and observations into imagery that hopefully will evoke a response in the reader or viewer. The cool thing is how it all becomes a chain of growth as we all perceive and react based upon our different perceptions.

    Thank you for sharing this!

  9. Ha! Profound!
    I love it! The last sentence wraps it up beautifully!
    How much fun KJ!

  10. Oh I just had to withraw my previous comment. I find this poem overwhelmingly sad and I have read it so many times. I still feel the same way. You are terrific poet KJ.

  11. ..and I can't spell either.

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  13. thank you all for taking the time to read this poem.

    pieterpie, if there is a structure to the poem, i don't know what it is. i have never had training in writing poetry. i took college courses in literature and grammar etc, but i don't know verse or whatever other poetic terms i should know...

    ces, the poem is sad but hope was not entirely extinquished. i wanted to write a sad poem. life is sad sometimes.... i did not know there would be some glimmer of hope still present in the last lines until it was written. i am glad it ended that way.

  14. Great poem, Kj. Interesting to read how you wrote it too.

  15. thanks marie.

    vanessa, if you happen to see this comment, i am so glad you visited my blog! i look forward to seeing you next week.

  16. WOW! Really beautiful kj! I love that you used the baking process as a metaphor for feelings and life! Very cool plus the part about your mom I could totally picture her kneading and dicing. Really great and I loved reading about your process too!

  17. How interesting to read about wat goes on inyoru head as you write. Thanks for sharing that.