The Raising and Care of Poems – Some Ideas

It begins, often, as a sort of unspeakable knowingness. The kind of inability to articulate that drives one mad. How to convey the love? For lack of a better word, love stands in for that need. And it is a sort of love, a desire to share.

Sometimes it objectifies itself and offers little in the way of getting at it. This feeling, concept, image rattling around the neurons, pinging back and forth between random sites in the brain: image, memory, smell, feeling. It’s a perpetual motion machine, but a virtual one which demands attention despite its incompleteness. A ball of clay with little to hint at what it might actually become.

It’s a need, a desire.

It demands attention, and like any ghost, vanishes when the direct gaze approaches. Instead, it lives on sidelong glances and the the corner of the eye. Focus chases it away until is ready to reveal itself, to allow itself to become instantiated in language, however abstract and ephemeral that is. Not the thing itself, and not even the idea of the thing, but the representation of the idea. Maybe, when this love is willing for that situation, ready to be considered as a thrice-removed fairy, that writing begins.

It begins, maybe with just a phrase or an image, but one finally written down in the margins of a notebook, or a scrap of paper, or the digital file of ideas.

The pen, the keyboard, strives to cousin that sprouting seed with care. Another kind of love, one with patience and tenderness. For the abstract abstraction is delicate and as yet unrooted. Its expression to this point is almost purely potential and not as much fulfilled, the way a ball on top of a table has potential energy in the distance to the floor, or the way a seedling is the potential of the plant. Both action and care are required to see the potential become actual.

From the flower contemplating the creation of a seed to the sprouted seed itself, the poem at this point needs water, soil, and the right sunlight to succeed, to set deep roots and sprout leaves. This brings up the question as to how?

And the very unsatisfying answer is that it depends on the poem itself. Some seeds need very little care and will erupt in a miniature oak seemingly all at once. Others must be greenhoused until after the last frost and even once planted be protected with insect treatments, plastic tents, and etc. Most fall in between these extremes.

Some mix of letting it lie and special care.

Some seeds can lay dormant for years, only to erupt with new life after a violent forest fire.

These are metaphors, of course. But one of the ways I can figure out how to convey this concept of making something new, the inspiration, even the duende, as rare as that is.

Once the path of care is decided, the work begins.

Maybe this stage is more similar to guiding a bonsai than raising a crop. Blind alleys need to be pruned, promising paths encouraged. The tree, of course, knows it’s a tree, but the art is teasing out the tree’s beauty, its inner soul.

Strange thing for me to say here, I know.

But if a poem has a life, it too has a form it most perfectly fills, as the bonsai. It is the realization of that form which takes the work, and pruning, and encouragement. The poet who finds the form (and here we should note that this is not form in the sense of sonnet or free verse, but form in the sense of the expression of the poem’s essence) and guides it will find the result providing the same satisfaction as the well-guided bonsai tree. Or any well-crafted art. Michelangelo’s “David” or one of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” offer the sense of completeness.

Poets have used the slamming of a door or the click of a lid for this metaphor; varying acts of closure. But really, should the poem be closing on the reader? Maybe this has worked because a reader feels a sense of completeness about the poem?

I don’t know.

Some poems which slam or click do not do nearly as much for me as a reader as those which offer something complete, something of a whole, which I can take inside me and it fills me up instead of slamming a door in my face.

This care for what begins as love. This, I think, is the craft of poetry. And if it does not begin as love, if it is not treated and raised and pruned with love, then what does it end up being? Poetry?

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