I sometimes (very rarely--when I somehow, strangely am not too
embarrassed to--when I actually feel comfortable enough to--share
with people that I actually write poems...) tell people,
when this, that or another topic comes up in conversation,
“You know, I’m actually working on a poem about that.”
Recently, I have come to realize that often this “poem” that I
am working on is often just a line or two sitting in its (or their)
own otherwise blank document, waiting for me to finish it (or
them)--sitting there in a primordial soup of meaning (or is it
meaninglessness? I lose track...), like dry little sticks, poking up
through that pure white nothingness of snow, waiting for spring
to come and the thaw to begin and the juices to start flowing up,
up from the soil from which they are growing.
So where or what is this actual “poem” that I say that I am working on?
(Is it the twigs? Is it the snow? Is it hiding in the earth underneath?)
It’s not the grouping of words that finally finds its way onto
the page, and it's definitely not those one or two lines, sitting there, all
by their lonesomes on that big, blank, cold and lonely page.
It’s something else, something that existed long before I even knew
where those one or two lines were going to go or where they came
from or where they were going to take me. It's something that spoke
to me with something more (or was it less?) than words. It's something
that I sometimes think of as a constellation, for lack of a better word
to describe how this thing that hasn't yet made it's appearance in the
world feels, or felt, back before it knew what it wanted to be. It's a thing
that starts as a melange--part scent, part emotion, part kinesthetic
feeling, part logical thought or conundrum or paradox, part memory or
missing memory that pulls at me from the dark corners.
It's like walking into a pantry (your grandmothers, your dream grand-
mother's, your dream grandmother's dream), full of spices and herbs and
root vegetables, dark and dusky autumnal reminiscent golden light and
being overwhelmed, dumbfounded and found dumb and mute, being
stopped right their in the tracks that you only just now (by virtue of this
thing happening) realize you were riding on (when you thought you
were in control, thought you were in the pilot's seat), by.....
...and then trying to put that something into words because words are all
that you have and you know--you just Know--that someone, somewhere
has had that something in their hands before, had it run between their
legs like an obstinate feline, they've felt it brush by them, felt that very
same thing's whispery wing push a gentle breeze across the skin of their
upper arm and you just KNOW that you have to tell them, "I felt it too."
The poem is a thing that exists outside of time and space. It was
there even before I wrote those one or two lines and it is something
that is also else and other than the final thing that eventually
finds its way on to the page.
“A poem is nonetheless present from the conception, from the first
germ of it crossing the mind—it must be scratched for and exhumed.
There is an element of timelessness. The leading atomic scientist
in Australia agreed with me the other day that time does not really
exist. The finished poem is present before it is written and one
corrects it. It is the final poem that dictates what is right, what
—Robert Graves (from an interview in Paris Review)
“Even the right words if ever
we come to them tell of something
the words never knew”
--W. S. Merwin (from “What the Bridges Hear”, in his brilliant book
of poems, The Shadow of Sirius)
It is thanks to Holly Lofgreen that I have come back to this Intersection
and finally finished it and posted it after it sitting in my drafts folder for
at least a year. We have been discussing this ephemeral nature of the
poem--where it comes from...where it goes--which has helped me to
crystalize these thoughts.
There is power, real power--the kind that comes
from a vulnerable honesty--in her work.
You need to read her.