I thought I'd write a poem for today's blog. Yeah, so I'll just write a poem because I say I'm going to write a poem. Is that the way it works, oh Swami-Orpheus-Guru? You want to toast some English muffins and lather them with peanut butter? You want to sing an aria like Maria Callas? Same thing, huh?
How do you write a poem? What is a poem? Good questions, and there are hundreds of books with the answers. So I won't get into all that, it's huge. Instead, I'll talk about How To Cook Up A Poem. I'll also discuss When You Know Your Poem Is Baked.
Lying in bed is a good start on a poem. There you are, in bed, it's night, it's raining. You want to write a poem. You could write about the bed, the night, the rain, the lamp, the shadows on the wall the lamp makes, where is your husband, your lover, loneliness, happiness with having the entire bed to yourself, the painting on the wall of an old Japanese man with a small monkey on his shoulder. If you open your eyes and take your head off, (this is the essential paradox of poetry writing, and you must do it), the subject matter is astonishingly everywhere, a myriad of astoundments to choose from for your poem.
You can also, while keeping your head off, search your memory for The Thing That Is There The Most. Could be a memory, could be a thought, could be a vast pain in your heart that's drilling holes in your soul, could be your socks. (Read Pablo Neruda's "Ode to My Socks.") Now, let's start cooking!
Last night, The Thing That Was There The Most was the red glow. That will be my first ingredient for my poem. Where did the red glow come from? More ingredients: it came from the setting sun and poured a red glow all over my neighborhood. I was driving in my car, listening to Miles Davis and his rendition of "My Funny Valentine," and I turned a corner, and there was a red glow on the hills, the houses, the Monterey Pines, the young couple and their dog and their baby in a stroller. This little gang was walking across the street. The dog was leading the way with his shaggy tail and brown and white patchy mop of a coat. I looked at the clock on my dashboard. 5:42 pm.
Okay. Stop. That's the recipe. I'll begin mixing it up. I'm going to leave you now and write this poem, the first batch of it, or the first draft of it. I'll time it and let you know how long it took. I'm using the paper or the computer as my mixing bowl. Be back after this commercial break. Roll up your sleeves, get your apron on, and leave your head off.
I'm back. Here goes:
February Sunset, 5:42 pm
The red glow touches the rooftops,
the silky needles of Monterey Pines,
flows over my car,
fills my eyes with rubies,
I turn up the music,
Miles Davis on his red hot trumpet,
playing My Funny Valentine,
and there on the corner,
now crossing the street, a young couple
with baby in stroller,
their dog's shaggy tail leading the way,
his patchy mop of a coat, his long speckled nose
in the air, and I'm falling in love again,
let me hold on to this moment, the red glow
on the cold daisies, the snail moving slowly
through tangled ivy, this day
going down in fire,
beautiful beauty right here,
That took 43 minutes.
This poem needs work, but at least I have something on the grill.
Is this poem baked? I'd say it's half-baked. The snail image isn't doing much. And the close to the poem is cliche: here then gone. Also: beautiful beauty. Something else needed there, or more. The line breaks, the rhythm. Lots more to consider here in the revision.
On endings: they should have a satisfying click. Endings should be surprising yet inevitable. I don't like using the word "should," but you get the idea. Maybe I'll try to end with an image instead of a statement. That's another suggestion for closings to poems.
Ah, I had fun writing the poem. Deep fun. In an interview, Barbara Hershey was asked, "Is acting fun?" She said, "It's deeper than fun."
A quote about poetry from Adam Zagajewski: "To experience astonishment and to stop still in that astonishment for a long moment or two."
Take 43 minutes with your mixing bowl and write a poem.
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