Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Simmering Poems

The Great Poem [Lawrence Raab]

from Nightsun and Best American Poetry 2006

The great poem is always possible.
Think of Keats and his odes.
But you shouldn't have to be dying.

What I'm writing now is not
the great poem. After a few lines
I could tell. It may not even be

a particularly good poem, although
it's too early to decide about that.
Keep going, I say. See what happens.

But trying hard is one of the problems,
since it shows in the lines as a strain
or struggle that reminds the reader

too much of the writer, whereas
most readers want to listen alone.
The great poem, I think, will arrive

when I no longer care. Perhaps
I'll have abandoned art altogether,
and I won't even want to write

the poem down. But then I'll remember
what I once would have given
for this moment, and I'll go back

to my desk. And I'll write the poem
as though I were another person,
someone I will never be again.

---

Like I've said over here, on my twitter account: A poem is swimming around in my head; his fingers just aren't pruney enough for him to quit splashing around in there yet. 

I write poetry differently than I write prose. I don't have a method, I don't follow any rules, I generally don't even put anything down on paper until I'm able to practically recite the whole thing to myself from memory. 

Generally, something just comes to me. Sure, sometime I force it a little; like two nights ago when I realized that it had been months since I had last written a poem, so I started to muse a bit. Within minutes, I had a memory locked into place, and a general feeling of the thing. But that doesn't mean that I start writing yet. Instead, I let the poem simmer, to soak up some flavor. I think about what it's saying and how I can say it. I let my head whisper small sentences and fragments. 

And somehow, I don't forget any of it. I've had weeks where I've walked around with a poem in my head, and I'll get stanzas put together simply by chanting them like a mantra as I walk home, or before I go to bed, or at red lights. I do this, because as soon as my poem is down on paper, as soon as I've changed some line breaks and added some adjectives, it's out of my head. And I forget about it. 

It's like it has been pulled from the stove, cooling, and it never feels right to add extra ingredients. Once, my roommate made caramel-swirl brownies, but forgot to add the caramel swirl before she put the pan in the oven. Halfway into their cook time, she pulled them out, tried to swirl the caramel on top. It was a disaster. 

So I'm going to let this one simmer some more, let it take as long as it needs. I'm in no hurry, and like Raab says, "The great poem, I think, will arrive when I no longer care."

L. Stacks


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