Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Going deep

Today, while driving to Goodwill, I was thinking about trying to write about a childhood friend. This is someone I last saw in 1983. Two years ago this time, I found out that she had been murdered by her husband. The news came at a time when I was already fragile from several wild winds in my own life; I don't know how well I "processed" the event.

I realized, as words came together in my head, that to do this poem right, I would really have to immerse myself in memories, pictures, information about the event. And I don't feel up to it.

My poems tend to arise because of a chance (or sometimes contrived) encounter with a propitious phrase. I was scrambling last night for a subject, decided to see what popped into my head, and got that old Whitman line about lilacs. I then reeled stuff off, words in what sounded to me like musical phrases, referring intermittently to Wikipedia for some bits of information on lilacs. I like what I got, and I think it could become something better.

Does this approach strike anyone as cold? I wonder. So many of my poems come from a sort of aesthetic remove; they sing for their own sakes, and they're not overtly about some personal trauma or deep feeling. That's not to say that they aren't designed, often, to evoke such a feeling.

All that said, happenstance can guide me into more emotional poems. The one I wrote in April, about my father visiting my mother's family, was (is) pretty meaningful to me. There were at least two others that I wrote during that poem-a-day month that touched on extremely personal "hot topics"--including one that was in response to the news of the death of someone with whom I had had one of the worst relationships of my life.

I dunno, though: Sometimes it seems like other poets, especially the ones I meet in workshops, are very much in the business of writing about some very important or meaningful topic. I seldom can get to such a topic via the straight path. And sometimes this makes me uneasy.

Now I have a funny feeling that I wrote some very similar musings in April. Yup, I did. Oh, well.

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