Writing poetry is sometimes a hit-or-miss deal. As much as I would like to write in my notebooks every day, I often don’t have the time or inspiration to write daily. When I do sit down to write, I like a quiet room, a clean space to write, and some nudge of an idea. Sometimes, I’ll sit down at the kitchen table, close my eyes, pick up my pen, and hope the muse visits me.
John Milton in Paradise Lost invoked “Sing, Heavenly Muse.” For my purposes, the muse might visit as a song on Pandora or as a friendly Face book posting. Sometimes my sons will encourage me with their whimsical insights into life and culture. What I really want when I start a poem is to tap into some deep emotion, memory or image.
When my father died two years ago, I felt his loss deeply. The result was a poem called “Island Palette” which harked back to his years living on Anna Maria Island, Florida. My dad liked to paint and one morning when I was visiting, he brought out all of his pastels for me to look at. I was so touched by his wanting me to respond to his art. In the poem, I refer to a “a small bird on a branch.” As a young man, my father studied ornithology at Cornell University. Somehow my thinking back to his paintings also reminded me of his love for birds and that found its way into my poem.
Of course, there are poems that somehow write themselves. When my twenty-year-old son, Neil, returned from a month long trip to Moldova to visit his girlfriend, he talked for two hours non-stop about his trip. It had been an arduous journey and he had been afraid for his safety in a foreign country. After he went to bed, I wrote down everything he told me. At the end of my poem, “Souvenirs of Moldova,” I wrote: “The bus drifts and curves/the long endless night/where boundaries are blurred/and the young man wakes/not knowing what country he is passing through/or when he can go home again.”
The pieces of my mind aren’t always linear or orderly. My poems often reflect the scrap work effect of my thoughts, but I love the freedom and “ah-ha” moments when writing. I also love that I have a vehicle to shape my experiences and memories.