My Poetic Mess

As opposed to the wonderful Polish, Noble-prize-winning Wislawa Symborska, I do not lie on the sofa with pad at an angle and, for hours, puzzle out a poem. It comes to me in motion.

     One of the watershed learnings of my life was reading about Howard Gardner’s 7 intelligences. Yes, I have the literary and musical. No, not the mathematical. Yes to the environmental (Gardner isn’t sure this should be included). Then came the big discovery: kinetic. The more I thought about a kinetic intelligence,  the more I accepted the reality: I have to be on the move.

     I’m no sportswoman. Always the last to be chosen by the all-girls teams at Ashley Hall, Charleston, South Carolina. Eye-hand coordination not great probably because my vision is good for close-ups and  gazing into the distance. But eye-balling a softball coming down out of the sun? Nope. I squint Plus I don’t have physical stamina.

     But short bursts, walks of a round-trip 1.5 miles–a sort of heaven. Especially late afternoon/early evening when the light angles down and creates flickering shadows. I can fall in love with green that caught in that net of light. One foot in front of the other, a little jog here, a jog there, words forming in my head, there’s a cadence–a poem is being given to me.

     If I return to a quiet house, only me and the cats, I will go immediately to the kitchen counter or grab a used envelope from the recycling bin. Slide to the floor in front of the back screen and, looking into the green backyard, write down what is still angling across my thoughts.

     Then the confession: I resist going from the private delight to anything more public. The drafts–half legible, often on second reading not quite intelligible–pile up in my study. I kinda wanna lose them. I kinda wanna pretend they’re my private treasures. I’ve completed the compelling cycle. I’ve caught the spark, lit a tiny flame. That homage is enough.

     This is not at all true of writing prose. Prose insists on my alert return, day after day, week after week, season after season. I can pursue a story or essay down the corridors of years, knowing that I have to step aside for a while to gain critical distance. But never believing that the work is complete or satisfying just as it is. Prose is almost always quasi-public from its inception. I’m almost always talking to an invisible audience.

     Not true of a poem. A poem belongs at first only to me. It’s as if I opened the well of my psyche and dipped words from a private spring. The unspoken music which I create in walking out the words to their rhythm, is its own justification. The rest of humanity doesn’t take part in it. Yet.

     The process of typing out a poem, and trying to match my inspiration to an arrangement that will appeal to others almost doesn’t interest me. I know, it’s a weakness, a laziness of sorts, a resistance. I do it, but proably not enough. The pile of pencil scrawls on the backs of envelopes rises, spills off the desk, collects in a corner between sofa and bookcase.  

     Today, I will tend to some of it.



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