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You Start By Gathering

Have you ever seen the way a bird makes a nest? It grabs little bits and bobs of things, bringing them back to the spot it’s chosen, and fashions a home out of other things. Sometimes, the bird gathers bits of branches, and other times, it hauls back a selection of string. Whatever is gathered is woven together with the utmost care. There are, undoubtedly, some rough edges. The nest isn’t always perfectly round. It’s all found items and creativity, founded on instinct, hard work, and wiggling things to suit a particular space. Each piece serves a purpose. The goal is simple: creation.

To me, that is how a poem is made. You start by gathering. Sometimes, it’s just an idea you want to convey. Sometimes, it’s a feeling. Sometimes, you overhear something that leaves its fingerprints on the moment – or your heart – and you need to explore it. It’s emotional theft, sometimes. You steal feelings/inspiration from everywhere you can, like a Magpie. Moments. Glances. Situations. The underside of someone else’s heartbeat. And you fashion that inspiration into a trail of words, creating something new.

Writing poetry is all about feeling something (see Keating’s speech in Dead Poets Society). It’s also about examining some aspect of life in all its crazy incarnations, twists, and sideways moments. If you read a poem and it resonates – that’s a good poem. It’s like life: a moment that makes you feel something down to the roots of your teeth is a moment that matters. It doesn’t have to be a perfect emotion. Your heart might feel like it’s playing the bongos on your ribs. Your pulse could feel like it’s trying to murder you. But there’s a reaction. You know, without a doubt, that something is happening to you.

Poems, of course, don’t spring up out of thin air. No piece of writing does. There’s a person behind the pen. This will come as a shock, but: every writer writes different. There’s no one size fits all. There’s no correct answer. Writing isn’t math. And thank god, because math is evil. But I digress. With poetry, a lot of times, there are a thousand different ways to create something. Some poets are confessional (Plath – and I’d argue Ted Hughes, in his later work). Others bare themselves in a less personal fashion, which is why it’s important to never confuse a poet with a poem’s voice. That happens a lot in poetry. But if you read Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover, you’d be ill-advised to assume that Browning is into autoerotic asphyxiation, which is a method of interpretation the piece – positing that the speaker accidentally murdered his lover in flagrante. Point being: you cannot always read a poem as a mirror.

At its core, I believe that poetry is passion, distilled in a heap of words. It’s a heartbeat captured in a bottle, shown off to the world. A poem that makes someone remember something, that conjures an old ghost, that turns an idea of its head, or that simply makes someone think – that’s effective. Joan Didion famously wrote, “In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind.” And I couldn’t agree more. It’s important to examine life from every angle, otherwise, we’re not really paying attention, are we?

So, this is all a rather lengthy ramble, leading up to this: I wrote a book of poetry. It’s called I Don’t Love You Pretty. The poems are an examination of love in its less pristine incarnations, where it’s not all shiny or pristine – it’s a mess, but it’s a wonderful mess. The Greek myth of Theseus centers around a labyrinth. Eventually, Theseus finds his way out of maze by following a ball of string. To me, that’s a perfect metaphor for love. Sometimes, it’s the maze in which we find ourselves trapped. Other times, it’s the ball of string – the thing that leads us to safety. Love doesn’t have to be easy or safe – it just has to be worth the mess. So, if you’ve ever been in love – and seen beauty in its mess – check out my book. Who knows – it just might make you feel something.

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  1. March 7, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Really enjoyed this post, and I shared it with my nook of the Facebook realm. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    • March 7, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Thank you so much! I’m really glad that you liked — and thank you for sharing it. 🙂 Made me smile.

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