jeannineatkins (jeannineatkins) wrote,

Collecting and Trimming, Words and Wreaths

I just read a great interview with Ted Kooser in The Writer’s Chronicle (Oct/Nov issue). Our former poet laureate refers to John Berger and how artists draw. “They begin with their concentration mostly on the subject beyond them, but at some point the drawing itself becomes of more interest, and the subject falls back.” Ted Kooser says this is how he often writes, beginning with a person or place that drops back as each word on the page starts to direct the next.

I notice this happening with me, too. Some of the facts I find from research become sort of like the dots to connect on one of those old connect-the-dots drawings (do they still make those?) Of course there’s more freedom when composing, but the positioning of facts and key objects gives me a frame. For instance, learning that Marie Curie gave her daughters green nets to catch butterflies was an image that haunted me, partly because of the gift of the detail of green. When writing Borrowed Names, this led me to pore over books about butterflies around the world, pick up a book by the famous French entomologist Fabre, and study pictures of Paris gardens, thinking about the sorts of butterflies the Curies might have caught. Some of what I culled became dots or glimmers that directed one poem, then flashed briefly in another.

So you can see why there are more cross-outs and arrows than words on many of my drafts. I try lots of images before finding the right ones, then the work becomes about how they will connect. I need to start out with a lot before finding what looks good, as I said to a writer friend on Sunday while making wreaths. Ellen admired the bushiness of mine. I said this was how I wrote, going for broke, and leaving the clipping for later. The colors of the spruce and hemlock tell you if, that day, in your eyes, they want red ribbon or holly berries or pale dried grasses or a glittery band of stars. And the particular butterfly you set in a poem, or the particular words for that butterfly, suggest who might be watching or running in another direction, or what could happen once the nets are put away. It doesn’t much matter who or what inspired a poem, once I start keeping an eye out on where my own words might lead.

Soon I’ll pick back up Ted Kooser’s Poetry Home Repair Manual, and I think my favorite volume of his poems, Delights and Shadows. In the Judith Harris interview he speaks of its themes of delights in a field of darkness. “Every activity in life is undertaken with death observing from a distance… At so many feasts, we find ourselves setting a place for the dead – ‘Oh, don’t you wish Aunt Mabel were here?’ – and the nearness of death lends the food savor.”

And I’ll wonder if I should trim the wreath on my door a bit more. Nah. My friend worried that the stuff on her leaner wreath would blow away.

My husband said, That’s what’s supposed to happen.

The world is windy. Dried grasses or blooms fall off, like memories or extraneous facts. But the green circle will hold for a while.

Since I posted a picture of my somewhat out of control wreath a few days ago, now I'm posting Peter's. A nice balance, I think, of wild and in-hand. And for more Poetry Friday posts, on Emily Dickinson’s birthday, pour yourself more tea and visit:
Tags: borrowed names, poetry friday, writing process
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