October 15, 2011

Starting to Write

I begin with procrastination. Seriously, I think all writing begins this way.  Instead of being discouraged, I consider this a useful tension, a gestation period. It's a time of silence and darkness, very fertile.  On a subconscious level, what is going on is auditioning of images, sounds or phrases. The resistance of procrastination builds pressure, and pressure helps create the compression needed in a poem.

I walk. I avoid talking about what I'll be writing because it would dissipate the energy. I do laundry or yard work. The sound of running water is particularly conducive to writing.  I shower, wash dishes, throw a load of clothes in the washing machine. Get my hands busy but keep my mind free.  Writing is like becoming a river; I do things to start flowing. Read poetry. Do yoga.

I write in my journal everyday. At some point, I decide to give myself a half hour to do a rough draft of a poem. I try a writing exercise, finding one on-line or in a book.

Or, I invent ways to use the random. For example, yesterday I decided to make a word list. I chose four favorite authors and from pages of their books, using only page numbers divisible by 3, I count down 7 lines and choose a noun or verb from that line. I make a list of words. This looks like a word cloud in my journal. Then, I make a poem using most of those words. Next I make a second poem with the words used differently.

These exercises are all arbitrary, something for my conscious mind to become occupied with so my subconscious mind can emerge. I invent new rules all the time. When I find a poem of somebody else's that I love, I create a parallel poem with the same structure or with a something that is similar. I let my poem develop on its own so even I don't recognize the initial resemblance.

I give myself permission to be a beginner.  Each new work will have its own set of rules that you learn as you go. Assume nothing. Listen intently. Be willing to take risks. No matter how many works you have completed, you will be surprised at what doesn't work and what does.

In my journal I write down images that resonate. It's a painterly thing to do.  I focus on images and find them memorable.  Sometimes I sketch. I write down stories that I tell more than once. I record my dreams. I describe places. I search my memories. I write about what I'm reading. I write listening to instrumental music, and give words to the experience.

I avoid expectations and work at being attentive, in the moment. 

I create constellations of influences for each manuscript. I assemble certain books, quotes, photographs, paintings, visual images, phrases, music.  These are the stars in that particular universe. 

Once I have words on a page I begin playing making patterns.  I add, delete, rearrange, juxtapose, use opposites. I look for contrast and tension. I listen to the sounds of vowels and consonants. I make sets and sequences. A few sequences become a manuscript. I begin looking at the larger shape of it, and it becomes part of my dream life and I dream solutions. I read sacred books.  I read philosophy and study art and listen to music.  These all inform my work in some way. 

I have learned that letting go is necessary. I have left places and people when I could no longer feel comfortable, have given away many belongings, abandoned things, left my job. This has caused me grief. I escape gatherings, ceremonies, meetings, parties without notice. I flee. I avoid committees. It is necessary, solitude and loneliness and longing.

I believe in the hidden, emerging, invisible, and mystical. I believe in the musicality of language, believe that at some point a door will open and I will cross a threshold.

I believe in a muse and offer gratitude and praise for the poems I've received. I have an altar that is a small table that I keep empty, because the muse likes to have an emptiness to fill.

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