Where to begin?

Class commenced the other day with the simple question, “How do you start your poems?” We were given three options: image, sound, or idea.

This question makes me think back to my last piece to have been workshopped, which was definitely forged from a distinct image. Imagery is such an important part of poetry, that it feels natural to paint a picture through the written word. Unfortunately, I have the tendency to digress in poems that are built on a specific image. Without an underlying message, my image-based poems tend to meander to and fro, not really lending the audience a solid theme to sink their teeth into. While I believe that poetry can stand as an art form alone and doesn’t always need to be characterized as anything other than “beautiful,” the lack of a definite meaning can be frustrating for both the author and the audience.

Personally, I overlook sound the most when it comes to poetry. Therefore, I find it interesting that people begin poems with a specific sound in mind. To anyone who does start their poetry based on a sound, I would love to know more about your process! Please feel free to share!  

On the other hand, I think using an idea as a starting block for a poem will probably result in the smoothest construction. Beginning with an idea automatically gives the poem a structure that is not as easily developed with sound and image. Thus, one’s writing may flow more naturally, or logically, along its course, rather than jumping from one image or sound to the next. While, I initially answered the aforementioned question with “image,” I believe that I am also prone to writing poems when something is bothering me, which would fall into the category of “idea.”

Please let me know what your own writing process is! I am always curious to see how other people go about writing their own pieces.

2 Replies to “Where to begin?”

  1. Hi Rachel,

    When a poem starts from a specific image, as you mentioned, I think it’s okay if it “meanders” or “digresses” from that initiating subject or theme or even becomes something else entirely. This could also be a matter of personal preference, as everyone writes differently, but I kind of like following a poem and seeing where it ends up: Dr. Lytton mentioned how readers of a poem are blindfolded and guided – in a sense, why can’t we be, as well? I guess there’s the obvious answer that you know things that the reader may never know, but to be honest, sometimes I kind of have no idea what the hell I’m doing until I’ve done it, or not even then. I kind of just throw things at a wall and hope they stick (you’re probably more strategic), and this is probably not the best way to write, but sometimes we’re just not certain of the real subject in a poem. Does there have to be a solid theme or underlying message? I guess we’re approaching the question here of what is a poem, as Maiah asked in her last blog post.

    In The Triggering Town, Richard Hugo gives an example of a poet putting down the title “Autumn Rain” and feeling obligated to go on talking about Autumn Rain because that, he feels, is the subject. Hugo says that “when you run out of things to say about Autumn Rain, it’s a good idea to talk about something else.” Perhaps how a poem unravels and strays, or what it finds itself becoming, becomes its “meaning” or purpose, like what Grace mentioned in Rachel’s post about starting with the tea kettle.

    I thought it was interesting that you mentioned sounds because one way Hugo advises getting off the triggering subject is “to use words for the sake of their sounds.” As Dr. Lytton mentioned in class, and you mentioned here, I think it’d be cool to see how sounds subvert expectations not just of the reader but also your own. Or to try writing a poem “blindfolded” (not that I have any more idea of how this works than you do) and seeing where that takes you.

  2. Hey!!!

    I find that, when it comes to sound, working on ideas first are the most important. I usually start my poems with an image in mind, and the very first draft revolves around literally getting it on paper/on a computer so I don’t forget. Then I flesh it out to what I think might be okay. Then, I try to think of different adjectives or verbs to fit in that sound sonically cool. Like, if a “c” sound sticks out to me in a line, I’ll run with that, but I keep in mind that it will envoke a harsher sound when I’m writing it. If I’m going for softer imagery, I’ll try to stick to Bs. So, instead of words like kiss, capture, and comment, I’ll use brush, bring, and mumble.

    Honestly though, when it comes to sonically driven poems, I’m usually inspired by a sentence I hear in passing, be it from strangers I overhear, or just a cool sounding sentence in everyday speech. I’ll continue a streak of similar sounds throughout the poem, or look for contrast to create a cool effect. There are soooo many cool things you can do with sound. Lytton’s a genius when it comes to sound (I was in a workshop with him based on sound within poetry), so he’s a great resource! Good luck!

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