At the time of writing this, it’s one of those nights my body was screaming for meat, but I gave it peanuts. Wait, what?
I thought I had enough of viruses last month, but a minor one came to stay for a while, disguised as something else a few days ago. It was all out of order from the usual so I was fooled. What a trickster this one was! While the other day all I wanted was dark chocolate (I recently discovered on accident that this works, which is amazing because it’s one of my favorite foods) and bone broth to soothe a sore throat, tonight that wasn’t enough. My body wanted meat, specifically spaghetti with lots of ground beef in the sauce, or perhaps meatballs.
I don’t crave meat very often. My year in China changed my palate a bit in a funny way. Being somewhat deprived of the amount of meat I was used to, and filling up mostly with rice, noodles, veggies and tofu made me want more of the same when I came home. But not tonight, and alas, all the meat I had was frozen solid, and thawing it or going to buy some fresh seemed like too much effort. But I have hope for tomorrow.
Okay, that’s enough of that aside. This post is to show a bit of my writing process, using the example of a recent poem I wrote this week. Here it is:
The Words are Forgetting Me Because I need to strengthen my relationship with sleep My mind is losing me Because my emotions are usurping it Curiosity is gripping me Because something sweet struck a faintly familiar chord Danger is walking towards me Because my hand slipped from its hold on precaution Understanding is hiding from me Because your actions won’t parallel your speech, Nor my thoughts my responses Confusion is becoming me Because the words are forgetting me
What are your first impressions? Think about it for a moment. What kind of feeling does this poem give you? What do you learn about the speaker in this poem? Can you relate, and how? What kind of elements do you notice in the writing? Do you think there are certain techniques I used, and if so, what, and for what purpose?
Now, after you have your own idea of this, take a look at my beautiful handwriting! Great, isn’t it? At least it should be legible. My teachers used to praise me for my neat writing all the way from elementary to college, but it’s a bit sloppier now, especially when ideas are coming so fast and my fingers are trying to catch up. You can see on the left is my first draft with some edits, and on the right is my second and in this instance, my final draft.
Each writer is different, but my process 99% of the time when I’m writing poetry is to write by hand first, and then to type it up later. I’ve found that there is an actual difference in the result of my writing when I use a pen first. It slows me down a bit, which gives a chance for ideas to somewhat catch up with me. I’m not sure about the rest, but it does feel very different if I type first and somehow I feel a sense of loss for what could have been if I’d written it down on paper first. I can’t say why. You can try both ways and see what works for you. Maybe for you either will work!
Here is some backstory to help you understand my process. I was riding with one of my roommates in her car. I don’t remember now what she was sharing, and I actually got stuck on her slip of the tongue. “The words are forgetting me,” she said. Then she paused, laughed and said what I knew she meant. “I’m forgetting the words”. But the way she said it first impressed me. I wrote a note on my phone and asked her if I could use it as a title for something someday. She agreed, and I am forever grateful.
This is the first part of the process. If you’re going to write, make sure you always have something to write with wherever you go. I get inspiration from things I hear others say, song lyrics, images, even sensations I experience. Sometimes I’m just thinking and an idea pops in my head like an invisible being deposited it there. You never know when it will occur. I have notebooks all over my bedroom, and notebooks and pens in my purses and bags, sticky notes at work (which I admittedly use when I sometimes get an idea and take an impromptu mini break to write it down). Using a note app on your phone also comes in handy. Now I have notes I’ve kept with ideas I haven’t used yet but as soon as I was home Monday night I wrote down the phrase for a title and then the rest came quickly.
I focused on the idea of reversal, so that “I’m losing my mind” became “My mind is losing me”. And then “I’m getting curious” turned into “Curiosity is gripping me”. At first I only noticed that the shifted focus was intriguing. I used repetition with this reversal, and I also repeated every other line with a reason why, starting with, “Because”. Repetition may be a simple rhetorical device, but it can do several things for you. It can create rhythm, it can highlight something you’d like the reader to focus on, or emphasize a feeling you’d like to convey. What did it do here for you?
I also repeated “the words are forgetting me” in the last line, so that it matches the title, which can also be read as the first line of the poem. Bringing back an image, phrase or idea in the beginning of the poem and repeating it in the ending wraps up the package nicely, creating a sense of completeness for the reader.
You may rightly ask why I didn’t write “The words are forgetting me” down again as the actual first line. By not doing so, I left the ordering and poem meaning open to slightly different interpretations. One of the beautiful things about poetry is that every reader will interpret a poem a bit differently. There are certain ideas and thoughts and feelings I want to share and can attempt to convey, but I cannot determine how a reader will understand the poem. And that’s okay. Actually, that’s great! When I share my work with others and ask them what they think it means, I’m always awed by what I hear. It never fails. There is always a reader who has a different interpretation that makes me nod and smile and think, “My goodness, yes, why didn’t I think of that?”.
For example, with this poem, one reader may read the title and think the first line is the reason why the words are forgetting the speaker. The speaker is just tired! But another reader may set aside the title for a moment and read the first line as the first thought of this poem so that the lack of sleep is the cause of the speaker losing their mind, or the speaker’s mind losing them. It may be a small difference, but try reading it through both ways and see how it changes the meaning slightly. This is the reason why I reversed the ordering of some of the lines in the end on my second draft (as you can see with the arrows) and added some lines in.
There is also a shift in the subject towards the end, which adds depth. The “I”, the speaker, is joined by another person, which complicates things. Everything that happened before is not just the result of losing losing his or her mind, which can be done very well by oneself. Bring someone else in, and it has a profound effect. In this case, the speaker is becoming confusion. The reverse here is almost the same. It’s not that the speaker is becoming confused. No, the speaker is becoming confusion, or in the reverse, “Confusion is becoming me”.
A last thought, because right now I’m getting tired and the words are truly forgetting me! Sometimes as a writer that’s what writer’s block feels like! And this post is getting long.
As I continued to write, I realized that the reversal of the normal sentence structure made the speaker, as an actor in all that is happening to them, a bit muddied. It’s as if the speaker is being acted upon instead. When I got a sense of this idea I purposely used passive voice in the 7th line of the poem, “Because my hand slipped from its hold on precaution” rather than having the speaker admit that he or she let go. Perhaps the speaker is enjoying a ride right now, focusing solely on how everything happening to them feels. If they say, “Danger is walking towards me”, wow how terrifying that sounds! But yet the speaker here is walking towards danger, and maybe, just maybe, it’s a risk worth taking.
Of course, you may also have a different idea about the meaning, and I’d love to read your comments about it. What do you think?
Hi Aubri, you and I both work the same way! I absolutely have to write my poems on paper first before I type them, otherwise I don’t notice words I don’t like in the poem and the poem doesn’t feel authentic.
I agree with all of your strategies, and I would add “experimenting with different forms of poetry” as well to experience new poem structures. It’s a great and fun experience. I try to write a poem every now and then that adds a word to every line as the poem progresses, and then to reduce the number until the end. I also have classic forms of poetry written, but free form usually dominates what I post.
Also, reversal works really well when you try the mirror form of poetry, where one stanza says one thing, and then the mirror stanza has words replaced to make new meanings.
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Coeur d’un Poéte, it does sound like we have similar writing processes! How exciting! I do also prefer to write free verse but I like to experiment with different set forms occasionally. I’ll have to try the mirror form of poetry that you describe. That sounds fun! Have you ever tried writing a palindrome (mirror) poem? When I want to be challenged I like to choose a form to work within. I’ll have to check out your work on your blog!
Palindrome poem? I will have to try that! I’ve never heard of it!
I will try and write one to put up on my blog soon!
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