Genesis of a Poem

I can remember my high school English teacher casually instructing the class to write a poem in the spirit of Autumn.  It was late September, and the leaves were changing.  I’m sure that’s what inspired the assignment in the first place.  The poem was due the following day.

I didn’t know much about writing poetry, but I suspected the likes of Robert Frost and Walt Whitman didn’t just sit down and fill pages with beautiful verse on command.  I supposed there was a process – something introspective and meditative that had to happen organically.  Well, I didn’t really have time to wait for my muse to show up, so I forced myself to get something down on paper.  It was about how the baseball playoffs were shaping up in the Major Leagues, and the magic of playing the game in October when the World Series is on the line.  I thought it was a bad poem, but I got a B on the assignment. I was okay with that.

Looking back, I can say my instincts were sound.  There is a certain mind state I have to achieve before I can write a decent poem.  I’d like to share a few tricks I’ve learned over the years that might be helpful to your creative process.

There is poetry all around you.

Be observant throughout the day.  Appreciate small details, because the small details are the seeds of poetry.  For example, notice how weeds come up through the cracks in sidewalks.  On the surface, it seems like a trivial detail.  In reality, it’s a reminder that nature is a powerful force that wants to reclaim the urban landscapes we have stamped into the earth.  Now you have an entire concept to work with, and all you had to do is look at a few weeds poking up through the sidewalk.  Brilliant!

Your subconscious secretly writes poetry.

Doctors and scientists admit they do not have a very good grasp on how the human mind works.  They do know the subconscious mind is very active, though most of us are never aware of what it’s really up to.  A writing instructor I had in college taught me a good technique to get in touch with my subconscious.  He told me to carry around a dozen or so 3 x 5 index cards.  If I noticed something interesting, jot it down.  Every interesting thought or observation got its own index card.

Here’s an example.  I was crossing a road in July, and there was heat distortion coming up off the blacktop.  I thought the observation was worthy enough to note, so I wrote down: Heat distortion on road on one of the index cards. I waited a few days to go through the cards, and I came to the one about Heat distortion.  Without any effort I immediately jotted down, Shimmering Specter.  I put the cards away, and repeated the process a few days later.  I got to the one that said, Heat distortion on road, Shimmering Specter, and another thought just flowed from my pen to the index card: A halcyon oasis.  I was amazed when I realized I was subconsciously authoring one of the assignments due for my summer writing workshop.  It was a 5-7-5 syllable haiku.  Admittedly, I composed the last line with conscious effort, but it didn’t feel like pulling teeth the way composing poetry usually felt for me.  After ten or fifteen minutes I completed the haiku.  It read:

pexels-photo-274014

shimmering specter

a halcyon oasis

what beautiful lies

Okay, it wasn’t brilliant poetry, but it was worthy enough to present at a college level writing workshop.  Just by crossing a hot blacktop road my subconscious thought up a little story about getting lost in a desert and being fooled by a mirage.  Pretty neat.  And it took very little effort, save for having to carry around some 3 x 5 index cards all the time.  Now you can get a note pad app for your smart phone, so there’s really no excuse not to try this out for yourself.

 

Whatever kills me makes me stronger– Peter Griffin

The great thing about writing a poem is it can free fall from the sky, hit the ground, bounce a few times, and come back stronger.  That is, of course, if you’re willing to take an objective look at your work and make some revisions.  In my opinion, the revision process is the soul of good writing.  It’s where grandiose ideas, raw emotions, and penetrating insight are crafted into the concise literary forms we recognize as poetry.  If you have the luxury of workshopping your poetry, by all means, take advantage of it.  I know how terrifying it can be to put something as personal as a poem out there to be scrutinized and dissected. However, it’s been my experience that the process only leads to more refined versions of the poem, until you are left with the best possible iteration of the original.  After all, you owe it to your poem to take it as far as it can possibly go – to make it as good as it possibly can be.

 

Keep writing, keep revising, and be kind.

 

-Hawkelson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working on Relaxing

I’ll keep this post relatively short.  After all, Labor Day is coming up and I have to start working on relaxing.  I’m going to leave you with another haibun attempt.  It’s a quick read, and in authentic haibun tradition, it’s a first person account of an actual travel experience.  Questions and comments are always welcome.  Criticism is especially encouraged as long as it’s constructive.  That’s how we get better words down on the page.

Everyone be safe and have fun over the long weekend. As always, keep writing.

-Hawk

street-streetlight-street-lamp-trees-76282

 

Between Detroit and Toledo

Stacey talks expansively about Eastern philosophy and New Age medicine while I worry about tire tread and gasoline.  We’re driving south on I-75 trying to outrun a late winter storm that’s surging out of Canada.  It overtakes us somewhere between Detroit and Toledo – dark and writhing, and dumping snow at an astonishing rate.

I take the next exit – there’s a diner where we can stop until they run the plows.  We sit opposite each other in a booth by a window, and a tired waitress fills our coffee cups. The world outside looks like it’s composed of chaotic pixels, like the static on an old analogue T.V.  A screaming wind hits the glass hard like an animal trying to get inside.  Stacey recoils from it and brings her gaze back down to the menu.

She’s crying a little.  It’s been tough these last few months, and we finally decided to call it quits.  It was very amicable, for what it’s worth.  I agreed to take her as far as Lexington, and her cousin will drive her the rest of the way to Daytona Beach where she has a job lined up.

The waitress takes our order and leaves us in an awkward limbo.  Former lovers waiting for our food, waiting for the storm to pass, waiting for something better.

March tempest

winter’s death rattle

we hope for spring

 

 

 

Introduction to Haibun

I just got into reading haibun.  Like, really into it – the way people got into The Sopranos, and Breaking Bad.  A couple of months ago I didn’t even know what it was. To me, the word sounded like something you would call an exotic fish, e.g. I’m going haibun fishing this weekend.

It turns out it’s actually a literary form that originated in Japan hundreds of years ago.  It’s difficult to sum it up in a few words, but I’ll try.  The form combines prose and haiku.    Typically, the haiku follows a prose narrative, but that’s not always the case.  I’ve seen the haiku sandwiched between two paragraphs, and I’ve seen it appear at the very beginning.  I’ve also seen multiple haikus in a single piece. Of course, my experience is limited to English language haibun because I never got around to learning Japanese (slacker).

The thing that is really interesting about this literary form is the relationship between the two distinct components.  The haiku isn’t simply appended to the narrative as a festive little garnish – it illuminates some aspect of the prose that wasn’t apparent at first.  Sometimes the haiku offers a resolution to the narrative, sometimes it presents an alternative interpretation, or even a refutation.  It can add a dose of irony, or humor, or sorrow – anything at all.  And if the haibun is extremely well written, the prose and the poetry will unite in a literary symbiosis that will explode your mind.

Haibun is such a fascinating form, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface.  If you’d like to see what it’s all about, Contemporary Haibun Online, and Haibun Today are two excellent publications.  Their archives are free to view, and they offer some great selections.

Of course, I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring and try it out.  I’ll tell you what – writing haibun is not like taking candy from a baby.  It’s more like taking a freshly killed wildebeest from a hungry pride of lions.  If you’d like to read one of my early attempts you can find it below. I titled it, Ones and Zeroes.  This one has a decidedly Sci Fi feel to it.

Also, if anyone has a haibun they’d like to share with me, let me know.  I’d love to read it.  And if you like this blog, feel free to let others interested in creative writing know about it.

Take care, and keep writing.

-Hawk

sorry3

   Ones and Zeroes

It’s not just the usual conspiracy theorists wearing tinfoil hats who are talking about this.  There are professors from elite universities – people with I.Q.s as big as busses – who believe our entire universe is a simulation being run inside some kind of alien super computer.

They say it’s all numbers – binary code whirring beneath the surface.  They say they’ve seen the equations woven into the fabric of our reality.  More precisely, the equations are the fabric of our reality, and the rest is only a clever veneer.  Your memories, hopes, dreams, fears, regrets, all of it . . . ones and zeroes.

there were some cutbacks

simulation 86ed

sorry and goodbye

Archives: Smash Through Writer’s Block

Here’s a post from a few years back. I thought it was appropriate for today. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

-Hawk

 

Today I’m going to present a particularly helpful technique for combating writer’s block. I call it, Unreal History.

The premise is fairly straight forward.  Make up some kind of historical untruth and jot it down on a piece of paper.  It shouldn’t be too crazy, but it shouldn’t be too vanilla either.  You’re shooting for semi-crazy.

Here’s an example: An Irishman invented the first Margarita back in 1810.

Okay, we have our semi-crazy premise.  Now write about 250 words on your account of the unreal historical fact.  Have fun with it.  There’s no pressure – it’s just an exercise to get the fingers moving across the keyboard.  I compare it to a basketball player whose shot is way off early in the game.  Sometimes all it takes is a trip to the free throw line  just to see the ball leave your hand and fall through the hoop.  Suddenly the muscle memory kicks in, and the confidence is back.  Next thing you know you’re flirting with a triple double.

I’m telling you, crazy as it sounds, I’ve used this technique to generate some good momentum in my writing.  Of course, I never actually show anyone what I write during these little one page exercises – they get deleted almost as soon as they’re completed.  But, for the sake of demonstration, I’ll go ahead and post an example.  Here’s my account of the first Margarita that was invented by an Irishman in 1810:

In 1810 an Irish monk, Charlie Murphy, from Donegal, was sent to Mexico to investigate the legitimacy of a purported miracle – the image of the Virgin Mary manifesting in a bowl of tortilla soup.  Unfortunately, a mangy goat consumed the soup, bowl and all, before he had a chance to bear witness. Murphy, undeterred, resolved to remain in Mexico in search of a genuine miracle.  He inspected soups, burritos, tostadas, enchiladas, any and every dish he happened upon.  Still, he found nothing.

It was a hot day in July when a dejected Murphy staggered into a small restaurant, very much in need of drink.  The water was fine, but there was a deeper thirst that needed quenching.  Rays of sunlight shone through the window, illuminating an array of bottles on a shelf.  Murphy was suddenly compelled to moisten the rim of a rocks glass with a damp towel, then dip it in salt.  He was further compelled to fill the glass with ice, then he gathered the bottles from the shelf and added tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau.  Somehow, he knew the precise proportions, down to the drop.  Murphy stirred it a few times and tasted.  It was delicious and refreshing, and he called out, “Through Divine Providence, I have invented the, McSwizzler!”

Murphy taught the recipe to the proprietor of the establishment, and returned happily to his home in Donegal where he died many years later. Of course, the proprietor changed the name of the drink, and History did not remember Charlie Murphy.  But, in the small coastal towns of Jalisco, Mexico, people still whisper stories about the thirsty, red headed man who mixed the first Margarita.

Mexican Shamrock biggestLOL, I just read what I wrote, and I can’t believe I’m going to show it to other people.  And there are actually a few out there who recently started following this blog.  Thank you so much for your interest. It means a lot.

Take care, and keep writing.

 

-Hawk