Poetry begins in the head. The day had gone gray and I’d pretty much given up on fetching new stuff to celebrate the occasion. I was just settling into the fact that all I was going to do that day was set up a customized blog header when the line, ‘I wish you knew the man I called father’ blew in on the breath of inspiration. Details of the poem, dedicated to the memory of my father who passed on some twenty odd years ago, sorted itself out with the introduction of the phrase above.
Writing a poem can be either exciting or pretty much like cutting rock with an ax. It all depends on the angle of approach. Wordsworth took his cue from this when he said poetry “takes its origin from emotions recollected in tranquility; the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition gradually begins.” Underneath every good poem a carpet of refined emotions sustains the poem’s resonance, molding and loading it with deep meaning heavier than the metaphors presenting them.
Wordsworth composed the entirety of his poem, “Tintern Abbey” about 159 lines in all, in his head while taking a rather long stroll. “Not a line of it was altered,” he said. “And not any part of it written down till I reached Bristol.” How a poem begins and takes form in the mind; how the poet recognizes it for what it is and starts rubbing words together to kindle the flame; trying for consistency says a lot about the role intuition plays in its creation. When a poet tries to force a poem it often than not produces a composition which, comes off raucous to the ears like the sound broken glass makes trampled under heavy boots.
Poetry works best when it comes as a result of a free association of words in the mind, when it springs from an idea and develops through emotion that has been refined in the heat of tranquility. When I wrote the poem about my father, I’d had years to mourn his passing—the emotions within had blossomed from pure grief and outright bitterness to one of clear perception. And when the muses whispered those lines to my heart, the tranquility had traded places for recollected emotion. I knew what I was writing about like I knew my own heart.
Magic plays a prominent role in the writing of a poem. It is impossible to create one without help from the muses. Ask anyone in the know and they will tell you that, “Poets who have written successfully have done so largely through intuition. Poets often do this without being able to explain how, just as readers may respond to such rhythms without knowing technically, why.” A quote from Robert Wallace’s ‘Writing Poems’ which still rings true to this very day.
Keep your pens bleeding.