Sunday, January 31, 2021

THE MAKING OF A POEM

In creating many of my poems I have begun with an idea or inspiration, or sometimes an entire line, a donee as my poetry mentor, Colette Inez, called it, which I understood as a gift from the Muse. When I checked in an online dictionary, it was defined as a set of literary or artistic principles or assumptions on which a creative work is based. However, I recently worked on a poem that seemed much more like construction than a flight of images descending from the heavens.  

I had been sitting innocently at the breakfast table reading my morning Scripture when I casually glanced outside.  I can look out a huge bay window from the table and see my angel garden with the St. Francis fountain.  This particular morning I looked farther afield and found myself staring at what I thought was a telephone pole. The wires strung from the pole frequently host bevies of birds, often mourning doves but house finches and other avian visitors as well. This time, though, I was struck by the morning sun reflecting off something connecting the pole to the wire, two large cylindrical objects.  I couldn't ever remember seeing light shining from the direction of the pole in exactly that way although I've lived in this house for over 35 years and sat at that table in the same chair to eat my breakfast for most of the eight years since my husband died. I registered the impression but in some ways, it seemed so humdrum that I didn't think much about it except to wonder if I would ever do anything with it.

The next morning as I enjoyed my vegetable frittata and smoked salmon, I noticed a hummingbird zooming in near the window and enjoying the nectar from the scented camellia blossoms that are scattered up and down the slender branches. It reminded me of Ezra Pound's stunning two line poem, "In a Station of the Metro:"

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:    

Petals on a wet, black bough.

It was even more meaningful now that I have ridden on the Paris metro, a more elevating experience than the dirt and smells of the NYC subway where I commuted for several years. As I watched the hummingbird flit erratically from one blossom to the next, and thought of the electric chirp that these birds make, along with the whirring of their wings, I wondered if there was a connection I could make between the telephone pole and the hummingbird, but it was idle musing at the time that I tucked away somewhere in a back synapse of my mind.

Several days later, I was idly scrolling through house listings. My daughter had recommended that I just look at possibilities.  My house was built for the ten of us when my parents and my husband were alive and our six children were still all at home. My daughters are all married, and my son finally moved out, and during these Covid times I had been unwilling to look for a house cleaner, although keeping up with all that needs to be done in such a big house is beyond me. Elizabeth told me that I might want to look into a smaller home or a condo that would be easier to maintain; she said I can do it without any sense that I have to move or that I would be moving at any time in the near future but just to give me a sense of freedom in the possibility of being able to do it sometime if I choose.  What I found myself looking at were homes in the same town that are all about the same size, some even larger and with more than the half-acre that I have now. What they all have in common is that they are almost all clean and staged for selling. Very few have the piles of papers that surround me at my desk in my office or the week's layer of dust that lies on much of my furniture.  At some point, it occurred to me that I might ask a real estate agent if they have a cleaning service that would work for me.

Before I veered off down that path, though, I had started to put together a poem with the first two images--the telephone pole and the hummingbird. First, though, I had to do some research on what the cylindrical objects were between the pole itself and the wire. I learned first that what I had been observing is not a telephone pole but a utility pole and the cylinders are insulators. I discovered a great many things about the construction of utility poles but none to the purpose of my poem.  With that information under my belt, I sat in the living room in front of a sunny window to counteract the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder; it was the one sunny period of a day with downpours and hail. I sketched out three stanzas, each with a different focus, and then had to do something else, but I determined to work on a revision the next day.

This was the first draft:


First I took out the third, fourth, and sixth lines of the last stanza--which seemed either too blatant or banal--and instead added two lines about my househunting, including the phrase "none coded mine."  That chimed with the last lines of the previous stanzas about the revelation or secret that was closed to me.  Then I pulled out my rhyming dictionary and started reconstructing the lines so I could find a rhyme or slant rhyme for every ending word.  

After another hour's work, I had the current version.


Originally, the last two lines were one iambic pentameter line, but I decided to break them up, leaving them shorter and emphasizing the more restricted life I live now as a widow. I chose the title to underline the fact that there are messages all around me that I can't understand--yet.



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