Friday, January 23, 2009

Writing a Poem Isn't Rocket Science

Summer Rain

I realize that I write with different processes depending on the piece. For instance, some projects are just perfect for a little preliminary long-hand work. But others?

Take me and poetry.

I cannot write a poem in longhand. It just flops on the page. Too limp in expression. Too wordy. Too... not enough of what I want from a poem. So when I write poetry, I kiss pen and paper goodbye and enter the world of daydreams. I stay in bed just a little bit longer, pretending to be asleep. Or I exercise. Or drive. I do things that take me away and let my mind present images in rapid fire. I turn these images upside down and backwards, try on words and more words until they start to feel right. Sometimes I do this directly from the keyboard too. Let me illustrate the process with a poem for today. And also say that that process is not as clean as this, but you get the idea.

Step 1: Choose an Object, Person, Event, Experience


Step 2: Daydream in Images (today it happened before I turned out of bed and now I'm adding to it here at the keyboard)

paisley, tattered, dark green, first apartment, sitting before fire with spouse, cuddling, nursing babies one and two, birthday guests, tortilla chips and salsa, home-made spring rolls, new nephew staring at design, kids bouncing on, kids leaning over to look out window and wave goodbye to daddy, shredded

Step 3: Consider Fate and Dig for Meaning

This couch is destined to be replaced as soon as possible. If we'd spent more money on something lasting, we could have held on to it for the life of our marriage, maybe even passed it on to children or grandchildren. As it goes, we'll be tossing out a piece of furniture to the sidewalk. The garbage truck will come and crush it, taking some part of our memories with it.

Step 4: Think in Verbs

toss, crush, drop, lose, mourn, release, turn


If we had known,
when we slapped
down a few hundred
dollars for dark green
paisley with a hidden
sleeper, if we had seen
it coming, the shredded
chintz, tatters, depressions
and how we would not
care to repair it because
it's too short for my
husband to sit on
anyway (hurts his back,
he says), then maybe
we would have dug
a little deeper, sacrificed
more to save for something
lasting, to keep through a lifetime
and pass on to children,
grandchildren. As it goes
we need to toss birthdays,
stray tortilla crumbs
sweat of bodies
embraced, stolen kisses,
accidental spray of suckling
milk, toddler bounces
and goodbyes to daddy at the
window. If we had but known.

Voila! A poem. Some images and verbs came through. Others slipped away. New ones appeared as the poem grew. Daydream time: about 20 minutes. Actual composition time: about 5 minutes. Writing a poem isn't rocket science, after all.

If you try this process and write a poem, let me know about it and I'll be happy to link to you.

High Calling Blogs' RAP: Dreaming in the Comment Box
Erica Hale's RAP: On the Fridge
LL's January
Laure's 11 O'Clock Morning Hour
Ann's homecoming poem
Katrina's In the Stillness

Summer Rain Mixed Media art by Gail Nadeau. Used with permission.

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Blogger Billy Coffey said...

Amazing. What an insight into your thought process.

I find it fascinating that you can't write a poem in longhand.

9:37 AM  
Blogger RissaRoo said...

I love it! I would have had a hard time describing how a poem is "born", you've done is perfectly!

10:30 AM  
Blogger RissaRoo said...

Oh, and forgot to add...I can't write poetry in longhand, either! It's been years since I even tried. Maybe the shapes of the hand-written words detract from their meaning? Maybe they say more, just *being* there on the page in black and white, leaving nothing (and everything) to the imagination.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...'s totally true...and I never would have thought of it. Awesome job, LL!

2:22 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, I like the poem.

And yes, quite interesting to see how you approach it.

My penmanship is terrible, even when I try. And my penmanship used to be good, I think. A distant memory now.

3:40 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Thank you for describing your process. Fascinating. I'm really surprised that you cannot write in longhand. I can ONLY write (almost everything)in longhand... a yellow legal pad and a sharpened number 2. "For a Friend" was just there.. can't even describe it, and it was done in a couple of minutes. Not going to win any prizes for sure, but it says what it was meant to. And for some totally bizarre reason it seemed so less risky to post, put out there than the other stuff that's rummaging in my head.

I love the thought of you pretending to sleep (that really works?), and I am very sad that said sofa will end up on the sidewalk.

4:50 PM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Billy... I think most people's processes are pretty interesting, worth delving into and understanding. But of course thanks for your enthusiasm about mine. : )

Erica... it's fun to consider one's process. I'd love to hear about yours. For me it's not so much about shapes as the way the words just sit there. My best poetry keeps moving in my mind until it settles into something I can live with, maybe even love.

Sarah... okay, I would LOVE to see you try your hand (I did really like your other recent poem too.)

Ted... give it a whirl? :)

Kim... of course now I want to know what else is knocking around in your brain. Soon I hope? :) Oh, and yes, I felt kind of sad after I wrote the poem and realized how much memory lives on that couch. Pretending to sleep. Works, yes. Though now my secret is surely out. :)

5:02 PM  
Blogger Joelle said...

I like your process. Different than mine. (I've found knitting to be a good stimulant!) Yesterday my students and I played with our senses and objects, rolling a die to find what sense we'd experience the object with. For example, a smile tastes like chocolate. Purple feels like pansies brushing my cheek. Creative kiddos! Loads of fun!

5:40 PM  
Blogger Laurie A. said...

brilliant, l.l.! writing a poem may not be rocket science but its conception is as unique and diverse as any two lovers coming together. i think there should be more words about couches and windows and doorways and ...


6:27 PM  
Blogger Inside Me said...

I wish I could write poetry like you but, alas, I am stuck poem-lifting ;-)

A Sister's Couch
If we had known,
when we slapped
down our bodies
on that dark green
paisley with a hidden
sleeper, if we had seen
it coming, the tossing
of that sleeper
where, during a holiday
after good food
and great laughter,
and much giving thanks,
our first child
was conceived while
they up above
slept (we hope,
she says), then maybe we
would have waited
a little longer, sacrificed
another month so
that sweet (sweat?) memory
could escape the garbage
heap. If we had but known.

9:30 PM  
Blogger Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Wow, that is so different from my process of writing a poem. I have to do mine longhand. It's the one form of writing that I can't do on computer. Sometimes I feel it coming like a force inside me pushing to get out and then I just have to listen for the words, and sometimes a phrase or two comes first and then I have to listen for the rest. But I cannot consciously choose a subject or it ends up too contrived.

I love that different people create differently.

10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sandra wins the award for turning L.L.s Couch on its head! That is so fun.

11:13 PM  
Blogger Erin said...

I love it that two sisters write a love poem about (to?) a couch! Furniture always tells such good stories.

Oh how can you ever bear to part with the green sleeper thing now? Please tell me you're going to save a scrap of upholstery and incorporate it into your family quilt project or cover a throw pillow. A memory quilt for Summer Rain, maybe?

That would be poetic.

9:54 AM  
Blogger L.L. Barkat said...

Joelle... I think, actually, our processes are similar. You engage in knitting, which gets you sitting in one place with an air of half-attention that allows daydreaming. For me, the daydreaming is key. And I hope (Ruth's comment makes me think I've miscommunicated) I haven't made the process seem too straightforward. For what it's worth, I didn't set out to write a poem about a couch. I was in bed, daydreaming, and for some reason I started thinking about the couch. This led to more daydreaming and the sudden idea that this could be grist for a poem. Okay, and I love what you did with your students. I'm wondering how we could play a similar game here. :)

Laure... unique in some ways I guess, but I'm thinking that there must be some form of generation that involves emotional entry into the subject. Without that emotional entry, I think a poem fails to really achieve poem-hood.

Sandra.... LOL! First, on the poem-lifting. (Can you get arrested for that?) And second, on the... oh my, who knew? I like your poem, btw. Very, very clever and it has given me the germ of an idea for a fun project here sometime. One of my favorite lines: "sweet (sweat?) memory."

Ruth... see my comment to Joelle. I bet we are not as different as we think. I would love to see you describe your process as closely as you can. If you post on it, let me know and I'll link.

Marcus... why, yes, there's an award in there somewhere. Maybe for the bravest poem that's yet appeared on Seedlings (and possibly "most humorous" too)

Erin... where would I be without you to salvage my memories? Great, great idea. (And I'm thinking maybe we have a goodbye party for the couch too. :)

10:30 AM  
Blogger Rebekah said...

It's many of us think that it is rocket science! :) Thank you for posting this and for reminding me of it's beautiful simplicity.

3:12 PM  
Blogger Katrina said...

Um... I'm a little nervous to show you this because your writing amazes me and I have never done this before on my blog but... I wrote one... If you want to come and see...

I used your advice on this post and wrote it this afternoon.

I just discovered your blog about a week ago and am really enjoying it. I like the poem you wrote here and you have really inspired me.

I would welcome any suggestions from you on my poem. Like, am I using the right punctuation or too much of it?...Or does it even matter?

Anyway, thanks for stopping by if you do.


9:19 PM  
Anonymous Dianne said...

i know, i'm waaay behind but just had to comment on your thoughts on process. of late i've noticed how important process is, to anything, almost more than the end product itself or at least as much. and how important to fully recognize and embrace our own processes and to be fully engaged in them. sometimes something beautiful springs forth, sometimes i just walk away knowing i was there. i started with the poetry thing in my journaling, shared a few things with church (that i would only call reflections). i really enjoy it - although i can't say i write it, it's more like i listen for it, look for it, carve it out. now i'm trying to be a little more intentional but my process is a lot like yours - the daydreaming. and word lists! loved your thoughts on getting rid of the abstract too. very helpful. i'll have to remember to subscribe to your blog so i can keep up with your poetry posts; they are great.

10:26 AM  

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