Getting Back To Work

Well, I climbed my writer’s block and discovered the other side was a slide. All it took in the end was the usual combination of boredom, courage, and discipline. The first might sound odd, but really, you can only play so many games, watch so many old tv shows on your computer, before it starts to get stale. And I missed writing, like a phantom limb. I knew it had to be there, even if I couldn’t feel it with my fingers. So I went back to the root of the disease, faced it squarely, and have started writing a poem a day again.

Yes, that’s right. It was a big mistake for me to ever stop. I need that daily discipline the same way I need breakfast. I’m not saying the time away wasn’t fruitful. I started writing poetry in a different way, thinking about it as a combination of single thoughts slowly coming together, instead of as a single flash of glorious inspiration. While I worked at hearing poetry all the time before, it is now a more deliberate process. I realize individual fragments have a much greater purpose and deserve more attention than I previously gave.

Let’s go back to that phrase ‘hearing poetry’. By that, I don’t just mean listening to others read, or reading others’ work. I mean listening to the poetry my mind speaks out of everything I see, if I’m willing to pay attention. That attention becomes valuable when later, in a poem, I need to place my narrator in a real setting. Phrases as simple as the descriptors (‘the lavender sky, the twilight quiet’) from last week’s poem were ones I heard as I raised my head from reading on the sofa and looked out my own window.

This hearing is the result of an exercise I used to work at consciously, when I practiced metaphors, making up non-traditional, non-clichéd descriptions for people, trees, etc. (see this post for my examples back then. And to see how much I’ve improved. I hope.). After years of hard work, it’s become habitual now, to invert familiar images, to play with them almost without thinking. I hear them in my head: ‘Your face, the colour of a migraine’, ‘I think of the birch which always carry snow on their arms’.

So that reminder of the benefits of hard work has sent me back to a poem a day. I’m writing them differently now though. I don’t just sit down at one point and blurt out a single thought. Instead, I’ll write notes to myself all day, gather the accumulation of weeks and months, pilfer older unsuccessful poems to pull together a complexity of thoughts. This is how I plan to continue improving as a poet.

So today’s poem began with this fragment, written as we drove home the other night under the brightest Supermoon for nearly two decades:

the moon loses its glory over the city, sucked
into a fretwork of cables and chimneys,
voices the fleeting sparks of power through
the street-light bright night.

As I wrote it, I was remembering another moon poem I had written back in my undergrad
years, when I was planning on being a professional musician. It never occurred to me then to take poetry seriously. I don’t think it even occurred to me that other people wrote poetry too, other than what I’d had to read in high school. It was simply something I did late at night, sitting outside on the porch stairs. Here’s what I wrote then:

Stepping across the sand
to the white path
you have spread
over the waters:
Moon, I would travel towards you,
but my feet sink at every step
and I am afraid.

Other fragments and lines came together and after some serious editing, this is the result. I have found that every poem I have written this last week has contained some reference to Japan. Their suffering inhabits my fingers.


The moon is bigger tonight, a saved-up twenty year
shine, more a check-up on the planet’s marbled
health, a gleam over an expanding desert, a tighter purse
of those cratered lips at an island’s moved
mayhem, the missing houses and tankers, the timbers toothpicked
over valleys wide. As I watch, this moment’s
interrupted by embankment’s darkness, a road’s simple
curve, the orange ball rising higher for
its better look. But it pales, losing glory over
the city’s fretwork of cables and chimneys,
voices the fleeting sparks of static through
the street-bright night. Distance shrinks it to
a child’s toy ball, a bedtime book, a tea
cozy placed on a table between
the chatter of friends. Only the waves
keep its magnificence, only the waves spread
the white path. Moon, I would travel
toward you but my feet sink
at every step and I am afraid.



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