I have to keep reminding myself that writing poetry is not about repeating what I’m thinking, but about finding strings of words that I would never have thought if I hadn’t assigned the time to sitting down and kicking myself in the ass that’s between my ears.

I remember a long time ago. I was stopped at a light in downtown El Paso and poof, an idea came, and I knew then that this was the game. I was writing a novel about a guy named Tell Monk, who’d returned to his mountain town to repursue a relationship after being gone. He had to break into his house, since he’d lost his key, and was met in a room by a gun-weilding sheriff who’d come to investigate, and thus the story proceeded into all kinds of cliche, which I need to go back to sometime and “re-pursue.” At the time, little sparks would come and the thinking was fun.

But now it’s poetry that’s coming and so it’s time to pursue poetry. But what does extending the writing look or feel like? How does the writer know that something’s new and not a thought that’s become repetitious or tiring? I don’t know, but it’s worth thinking about. We can’t just invent interesting thinking or relations by wishing they’d come, but we can write something and then test a metaphor or image, subtract a word or implant a word that springs from the crazy relation.

Bones. Ninjas. Yup, there are rocks on the high sides of mountains. Yesterday, I thought about a poem in which a ninja balances on a guitar string. Now that’s something I’ve never seen and this spark reminded me that in many poems that are linked I’d been careering through redundancy, that I’d been searching through the same waste basket finding the same old trash. That’s what’s there, the cups and bread crusts of the lunch before. Sometimes, however, the bite in that old sandwich looks like a urinal or the memory of a shadow on the red church carpet at 10 in the morning on a cloudy day, when no one’s about and the candles in their red cups have been lit. Hail to the tossed sandwich crusts. Hail to the votives of the candle-lighter who knows not that his lamps tremble on the floor like the anxiety sharpening the edge of a shout blown through a widow’s mouth on some winter day with hungry children sleeping through their dreams.

2 thoughts on “Reminders

  1. Mary Ellen

    Really fun exercise to try: have someone read your poem aloud (or yourself, if you must), and write down the words, phrases, or lines that catch your attention (or your ear or your heart). Put the original work aside, and try interchanging the order of those lines you’ve kept. Don’t look for order, just play. Pick the line/word etc. that appeals most to you, and make it the first line of a brand new poem. It’s important not to look back at the original until you’ve exhausted your new creative strain. last time I did this, I ended with something in a very different place.

  2. Mary Ellen

    But the real point is, this type of play frees you from the ties to your original words, allowing a fresh perspective… without votives or urinals :-)

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