The Pleasure of Taking the Long Way: On Puzzling the Route to a Poem

The Pleasure of Taking the Long Way: On Puzzling the Route to a Poem

In so many ways, the things we have to do in our lives have to be done right. So much seems to be speed, utter clarity, and efficiency. I am bored by all of that exactness. Perhaps this is one of the reasons poetry is so appealing. It's a time of extreme permission—at least the way I teach it and practice it myself. Sometimes my emerging students say they don't like revision. I've learned this often means they don't know what to do to their poem. When they re-read what they've written (often within days or a week of it), they are still within the ecosphere of their initial impetus. Class after class, I show them how to widen, add new experiences, move off the predictable path. As they claim that generous space to experiment, they see how later iterations can be more magical than where they started. Then, too, there are some students who are most comfortable thinking the work is polished—and why can't it just come out that way? I don't know about you, but I don't believe what I write at first is ever phenomenal. (Okay, maybe one poem a million years ago…) That's fine with me. If it were, I couldn't stay in the making. To me, revision is a liberation. I get to let go of control for this one thing in my life. I am happiest when I have to disassemble and reconstruct a poem because that means I'm not limited by my mental map. Instead, I gleefully entangle in the wayfinding. Ahh, what a relief such slowing down is! Over the years, I have gotten more interested in building multiplicity into my writing. I've been experimenting with how much I can pour into the poem. Another element? Sure. A psychological worry? Why not? Or maybe even a whole separate storyline. If I am too obedient to the and direction I started with, I can only write what I already hold clearly in mind. I don't want it to be that easy. To be honest, I don't really want to […]

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