I know some prefer to tap or scribble their way into a new piece of writing without forethought. Some are lucky enough to capture a stream of consciousness that can be edited into an original work. However, a period of reflection benefits my writing enormously, allowing me to find an angle on some initial idea. In the very early stage of creating a work, I believe it is useful to develop an idea by selecting the best approach a poem could take.
I’m not talking about the initial idea or trigger here. For example, in a workshop, participants may be handed a trinket, seashell or a copy of a painting and asked to generate a draft poem within five or ten minutes. No, I mean the much slower process that may take several days or weeks of looking for an interesting way of expressing some idea.
I’m going to outline several strategies for turning an idea around in your mind until you have an angle on it that seems original. For an example of an initial idea, I recently started thinking about a walk, where the memory had lodged in my mind with an unusual resonance. There was something about that place, and I decided I might work up a poem trying to capture that mood. But that is not going to result in an original poem. There are millions of poems describing a Sunday stroll.
This is not a comprehensive list, nor is it very academic, it is merely some cues for looking at an idea in multiple ways to find one that best resonates for you and that seems to have a power of its own. Then one can go on to develop some source material using the craft of poetry, such as a search for metaphors, conceiving memorable phrases, thinking of words that might form the raw material of future work and so on. Here then are some strategies for thinking about a new work, in no particular order:
- Descriptive – The approach of describing something, holding up a mirror to the world. Examples of this genre include urban landscape or pastoral poems. This approach may just involve a listing the striking characteristics of some chosen place or found object. The purpose may be just to entertain the reader;
- Ekphrastic – a response to another work of art or music. This takes the response of the poet to a work of art as a starting point for an exploration in verse;
- Punctum – looking for some startling detail or anachronism that anchors the mood of the work;
- Moralising – finding a way to express an emotion, inner state or throw new light on a subject, for instance, by taking a polemical approach, or persuading the reader of something;
- Figurative – trying to find an uncliched metaphor to bring an idea to life. This might include using:
- Juxtaposition – finding something apparently opposite that when juxtaposed with the initial idea throws new light of the subject, e.g. a dilemma;
- De-familiarisation – Trying to distort the subject in such a way as to make it unfamiliar to a reader;
- Change of point of view – thinking about different points of view for the writing, e.g. to write a poem where an object takes the speaker’s voice;
- Humour – although humour may conceal a more serious message.
These are just some ideas that might help you develop a poetic scheme for your next work.