poem as slick made thing: from Alice in Wonderland to Yehuda Amichai

A line comes to mind, an image, a quote, a throwaway comment, an intriguing word, and a poet realizes a poem has to come out of it. At least that an attempt must be made. What the poem will be, its shape and content, even its theme, might be unknown. The poem starts to be made, another line, a word follows, coming as if out of the air.  If I have an idea for a poem and know where it is going, I might as well forget it. My interest is gone.

This isn’t how all poems are made, but it’s an interesting way to work. Underneath all the thinking and making, a poem may end up being about something deep in the subconscious, something important that has been waiting for a platform.

But since a poem is a made thing, it can be approached in many ways, the way a child looks at the materials available and without thinking, begins to make or build. We grow out of it; as adults simple playing can be embarrassing. Adult play sometimes narrows to games of one sort or another.

The poem at the start of the rabbit collection, ‘where language forms’ had several beginnings. I’ve written poetry for many years in the Japanese forms of haiku and tanka, among others. In three or five small lines, the poet often is conscious of using juxtaposition, of not following a thought in what many would consider a logical way. Something magical can happen by having a reader or listener make their own leap between two written concepts.

Another ‘brick’ in the building of this poem is my collection of pretty well anything that comes to my attention, via book, facebook, conversation, television or radio, basically I’m like the bird that collects things becaus they are blue or shiny. I collect words in various arrangements.

When I started writing lyric poems like this, it confused me. How do such disparate sets of words seem to work for me. They didn’t seem to work for some in a critique group. But some juxtapositions took hold ‘in my gut’, and insisted on staying together.

In this case, the poem started with the second verse, a quote from Lewis Carroll, and when it came to continuing the adventure, I decided to play and find lines that were noteworthy, colourful, or lines that I wanted to read over and over. Well, I’d think, let’s put that into a poem, see if I’m still interested in what I’m making.

It reminds me of Mary Dalton’s Hooking: A Book of Centos, and being astounded how lines from other poet’s work fit together because the poems ask readers to use their own intelligence and sensitivity to make meaning from a poem. Because I wanted to make my own leaps, and my own meaning.

So it was that ‘a hint of the philosophy behind the southern drawl/ sweet and delicious as falling into butterscotch’ from the mystery writer Barbara D’Amato, was so delicious and buttery that it need something to ‘stop the story’ because ‘the lens of our mother tongue changes it’, a quote from Czeslaw Milosz.

In the same way, singer/songwriter Adam Lambert’s ‘broken pieces break into me’, is true to Shakespeare’s ‘this our life, exempt from public haunt’.

The critical point is when all the pieces are in the right position, and the maker realizes what the poem may be about, discovers a central meaningful idea. Here the flexibility of language, the freedom of it, how curious it can be, how what a biologist with expertise in parrot-ology has to say is of  equal merit to that of a well known poet or philosopher, how the one expression can deepen the richness of another all spoke of shadows, memories, the everyday realities we live with.

The first two lines are mine and they came after the rest of the building blocks had rearranged themselves into a comfortable room in this language house.  As ‘poem’ comes from the Greek poíēma, meaning a ‘thing made,’ and a poet defined in ancient terms as ‘a maker of things’ it’s comforting for me to remember that a poem is a strange thing which operates as nothing else in the world does.

Yehuda Amichai’s lines about an old toolshed, saying so much about how we can ‘read’ a toolshed as a toolshed, or spend time to read more deeply, and discover that a toolshed is love, and a great love at that, leaves me with so much more to consider about language and ways a great love can be dismissed or discovered in the most unlikely places. I also like his lines there, to hand every time I open this collection, so I can read them and appreciate them as often as I want to.

Next time, I’ll try to figure out why a more narrative poem in the collection went where it went, and why, and why I wanted to keep it. Because a narrative poem, too, is a made thing.