Okay, so we have an idea. Or the seed, or germ, of an idea. Maybe it’s an image that comes to mind, in sleep or reverie or the gods know how. Maybe it’s an idea that we’ve been mulling, in one for or another, for some time. Maybe it’s just a catchy rhythm overheard in a song, or a clatter on a street corner, or a busker’s beat.
Something in that idea, or image, or rhythm catches hold … and begins, as if automatically, the process of pushing us forward. The key at this very early point is not to criticize ourselves or censor or shut off. We must let it flow. Just write down whatever comes, or gushes, however foolish or unpromising it may seem at first to the conscious mind or the superego or what Twain calls that “yellow dog conscience.” (And didn’t Shakespeare say the conscience “doth make fools of us all”?)
In the case of “Material Girl,” referenced in the last post, the main idea and images too came pretty quickly. I have a friend, Deborah, who is both athletic and gifted in artistic ways, creating and successfully marketing a line of bold and yet delicate jewelry. She has a gift for speculation, too, and lets her mind and imagination rove, often saying things that catch me sideways or unawares, speculations on gender or mortality that might knock me off a bike if we are biking together, totally unexpected and wild and often hilarious venturings.
For example, she and her husband Ken had been watching Transparent, the TV series about a father who undergoes a sex change and becomes a woman. Deborah offered, on the spur of the moment, as we were biking down the trail, that it wouldn’t bother her if that’s what her husband decided. I was appalled, or at least thought I was, and her husband denounced the idea when she told him. “The fuck I would go along with that!” Ken said. Still, this is the kind of thing that flies out of Deborah’s mouth as she’s blazing down the trail.
I’m amused and bemused by these speculations. Deb seems to be to be one of those poetic spirits who soar rather than fall plump down, as Emerson might say, and stick in the mud and mire of the everyday. Naturally, then, or supernaturally, she would tend to speculate about rising above it all, including the conventional secular sentiments about the end of life.
When I look back at my Catholic boyhood, which took place long ago at a time when Latin was still used in the Mass and when school children learned Latin and English side by side, literally, in the missals and prayer books, then I can invoke images pretty quickly of yearning for something gone, something spiritual, however improbable, and so I come to the conclusion that I am no longer a believing boy, clutching missal and catechism, and cannot believe in the misty and mystical spirits of the Church … but can believe in such bodies and such spirits as Deborah’s which are before me.
So forgive the long digressions. I haven’t really told you or anyone how to blast past the mere beginnings of a poem. Just stressed that we shouldn’t censor ourselves prematurely. Put down some images or ideas, some jangly or janky thoughts. Then brainstorm, adding images and ideas. Search your past. Speculate on the future. Something surely will come, line by line, and given enough time and enough genius, your own and your contemporaries’, will add up into something.