The Process of Poetry

Do you see yourself as spontaneous or a systematic worker? The style you adopt in writing poems will depend much on where you are on this spectrum. I believe a mix of these approaches is optimal.

How do you get to that “quality of beauty and intensity of emotion regarded as characteristic of poems” []? There are any number of ways to do this and the steps you go through constitute the process of producing a poem. To write a sonnet, for example, you need a range of techniques and an established process, such as the one given below.

Depending on your preferences you’ll eventually develop your own way. For the sake of guidance, here’s an annotated story to help you picture the process:

  • You find yourself on a stony upland. After a long trek, the clouds clear and a panoramic view opens up. The mountain range revealed recalls your climbing days [THE INSPIRATION].
  • It’s late afternoon though and you’ll need to prepare camp. You need to locate a campsite in the right place, tent facing the right way. Many criteria dictate this [FIND AN INTERESTING APPROACH OR ANGLE].
  • Having identified a spot, for example, not in a dip but near a water source, you go off to collect firewood. This can be a long wander around (note that in a real National Park this is often forbidden and in a wilderness area is strongly discouraged; but this is just an idealised anecdote so … poetic licence please). The better the wood you find, in dryness and size, the better your fire will be [CREATIVE SEARCH FOR IDEAS AND METAPHORS].
  • Decide what kind of fire you need, whether a fire for cooking or illumination, a signal fire or even to protect against wild animals [ESTABLISH FORM].
  • Carefully build the fire from tinder, kindling and branches [ESTABLISH STRUCTURE, which can mean deciding on line lengths, stanza breaks, even patterns of sound].
  • Continue to build the fire until it is ready to light. This is where you may switch between spontaneous systematic construction. It is an iterative process. You may go off to collect more wood or find water [WRITE].
  • When it seems right, ask your walking companion whether they think what you have made will make a good fire [REVIEW OF A DRAFT BY A TRUSTED PERSON].
  • Thereafter, you need to keep an eye on it, stoking it, damping it down until the late hours [EDIT, EDIT EDIT].
  • At length, some other hikers come along. You ask them to join you and all share memories together. All sit around the fire and appreciate its intensity and even beauty [READINGS].

And this is where my extended metaphor breaks down.

A good poem will burn for eternity.

20190609 Blog Image © Copyright Clifford Liles, June 2019


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