08 January 2012

Trade-Off: A Poetic Discovery

I know, I know, I’m not supposed to blog until Thursday! But this was just too fun to let go or forget. Let me start by saying that the Poem-a-day project has not been going well. Oh, I’ve been doing it all right, every single day of the new year. It’s just that none of them have been any good. Like, at all. I’m not even sure I can salvage these roughest of rough drafts. Yesterday, for instance, what started as a prose poem ended up filling almost the entire page and was pretty much just prose. I can edit it, sure, and I plan on it, because I know there’s something in there. But have you ever looked at the drafts for Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”? It’s gonna be worse than that.

So today I was once again facing midnight without an idea for a poem. I mulled over various snippets of ideas, thinking of anything that was on my mind: work, my story, the cat, the show on Food Network I was watching. Nothing was sparking my creativity. In fact, I rarely find myself able to write poetry. I started thinking that it was almost like I couldn’t have it both ways. I can’t have fiction and poetry, at least not at the same time. Just like how I had given up fiction in my sophomore year of college, when I claimed it again (or it claimed me, rather) I had to give up the poetry. I know it’s not completely true, I have written some poetry since last February, but it’s not like it used to be.

Then I had the “aha” moment. That’s what my poem should be about. So I started scribbling. As the words flew from the pen, a line stuck in my head. I had written “the burn of poetry.” It sounded familiar. Hadn’t I written a similar line before? I browsed through the names of older poems saved on my computer, and one stood out in my memory—a poem called “Rock” that was written for a junior year poetry workshop. I searched for the line and found myself reading the encompassing stanza over and over again:

                        I’m not the same anymore.
                        I cannot dream up a thousand worlds,
                        struggling to be a novelist.
                        You’ve burned me into poetry.

Wow. When I wrote those words, the feeling was so true to me. And now I’ve done a complete one-eighty back into fiction, back into my dream worlds.

I kept writing my poem, thinking it would go on down the page, expressing my newfound devotion to fiction and the passion it has ignited in me. But as I ended the second stanza, I did something that I normally never do. I stopped. Usually I try to beat my readers over the head with my poems. But this poem seemed to complete itself before I could muddy it with too many flowery words. It was short and concise and, for a first draft, perfect. There will be some edits in the future, I’m sure, but for now just having written a poem that I like is immensely satisfying.

As of now, the poem is untitled. But I’m thinking something brief, something that won’t overdo it. Maybe just “Fiction.”

                        You never told me
                        what I had to give up just to
                        keep you. It’s as though
                        I can’t have it both ways,
                        can’t feel the burn of poetry
                        in my soul, can’t be myself
                        because every second is spent
                        trying to be you.

                        Would I trade it?
                        Ask me instead to remove
                        an arm. The result would be

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