For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Monday, 8 October 2012

How To Write A Poem

In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, where the straight way had been lost. DANTE Inferno

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox  / It enters the dark hole of the head / The window is starless still; the clock ticks, / The page is printed. TED HUGHES The Thought-Fox


To write a poem, imagine you are lost in a green, dark forest, and have to write your way out of it. Hesitantly, you test a word here and a word there: rowan, perhaps, or lichen or redstart, even leporine or lepidoptera, but the forest is bigger and darker than ever. You try separating the words with a dot or a comma or a space, or a symbol you’ve never seen before on any keypad, but the words become stranger not clearer. So you pluck a leaf from a lime tree, a cone from a pine tree, a squeak from a mouse and a slither from a snake, and you string them together like beads on a rosary, and at first they shine like pearls or diamonds, but quite suddenly they hang as dead as crows on a gibbet, or as mixed metaphors in the hands of a budding, blogger poet.

More urgent now, more feverish, you scribble or tap the tang of woodsmoke, the glow of glowworms, the hint of expectancy, the hum of silence, until you make up or make out a faint path before you between birch trees, a winding path which takes you past earth-mould, bark-sap, fox-musk, beechmast,  passion fruit, mandrake root, black morel, chanterelle, asphodel; and just when you sense a wider sky ahead, the glimpse of a clearing, the border of night and day, the edge of a dream, you wake from your word-dream and find you are still deep in the green, dark forest, your heart trembling and glittering like the wings of a dragonfly hovering over a still pool, and just for a moment you are speechless and wordless, somehow beyond words and commas and p’s and q’s and dots and signs and hieroglyphs and spaces, beyond thoughts and ideas, even beyond things, somewhere in an unknown, more open and sunlit place...

... and right there, in that place, on your own, lost in a dream of reality or the reality of a dream, you discover, unexpectedly and magically, that your poem has been written...

For AD

(Image from Wikimedia Commons: Fox's den near Jastrzębia Góra, Poland. Attributed to Leafnode.)

9 comments:

Martin said...

Lovely post. I try to remember to carry a notebook and pen with me when hiking but always seem to 'forget' to take it out and start scribbling. Feeling inspired now : )

George said...

As one who has been in that dark, green forrest lately, struggling to find and string together the right words—"right" at least for me—I find this posting to be both comforting and encouraging. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Ruth said...

This is a beautiful transformation, for those with eyes to see it. Like that Bright Field of R.S. Thomas' you shared at washed stones, it can easily be missed, while we look for poetics. But when we get to the right place, I think poems do rather write themselves, without too much worry over metrics or word choice.

Just wonderful!

dritanje said...

Oh it's marvellous! I could really feel the atmosphere, quite unnerving - and it can happen too, in woods both literal and metaphorical, at times both scary and unexpected, that light DOES come...

The Weaver of Grass said...

I shall certainly have to try sitting in the middle of a wood Robert - all poetic inspiration has disappeared at the moment.

Susan Scheid said...

Simply beautiful. I wish I could write a poem of any worth. There is nothing more magical than being in that liminal space where thoughts arise and, if we can but put those thoughts into words in any way adequate to the purpose, transform our world. I am put in mind of the penultimate stanza of Wallace Stevens' The Idea of Order at Key West:

Why, when the singing ended and we turned
Toward the town, tell why the glassy lights,
The lights in the fishing boats at anchor there,
As the night descended, tilting in the air,
Mastered the night and portioned out the sea,
Fixing emblazoned zones and fiery poles,
Arranging, deepening, enchanting night.

May I raise a toast in celebration of poets who, every day and everywhere, enchant the night!

The Solitary Walker said...

Martin: always good to carry a notebook and pen...

George: hope you are ok. Will send you an email soon.

Ruth: that RS Thomas poem is quite wonderful, isn't it?

I'm so glad you liked the piece, dritanje...

It will come back, Weaver. In the meantime, remember to take a waterproof sit-mat or comfy chair with you when you go to the woods.

Thanks, Susan! Yes, let's praise the poets. It's difficult to write poetry. Then again, sometimes it just falls into your lap.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Now this reminds me of the poets of the romantic era. The forest was a big force in their inspiration.

The Solitary Walker said...

Yes indeed, Heidrun.