Veronique Darwin

Accidentally Writing Poems

In Inspiration, Language, My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on January 31, 2016 at 8:29 pm

Never did I mean to write a poem. I didn’t like reading them for school and though I once wrote one based on a dream, I never thought I could really evaluate how good it was. It seemed perfect. I sent it off to The New Yorker. What makes a poem good is a question I never asked myself. Then I accidentally started writing them, and now the question hangs there, unanswerable.

Poems seem derived from their structure. A sonnet or a haiku only is one because of how many syllables and lines it has. That makes no sense to me. Isn’t poetry an art? How can it possibly be so different from other things, so boxy, so rigid? I took a whole poetry survey course at UBC where I (unadvisedly) read poems really fast, at my normal reading pace, then showed up to class expecting to participate in discussions. I never could and I never tried reading them differently. I never saw the point.

When I started having to teach poetry to my elementary school students, I asked them to start with free verse, because this was where you could play with words. I executively decided this to be the heart of poetry. We never moved on from that. Any other forms of poetry didn’t make sense enough for me to teach. Why on earth would one write a limerick? Is a child really expressing himself by writing an acrostic poem using adjectives that start with the letters of his name?

I know that stories and novels have structures. They have beginnings, middles and ends, characters and certain other tropes one usually has to adhere to or at least understand, but these seem so much more intuitive to me. I have actually been afraid to write a poem because it seems like an exercise in solving a puzzle, some precise and well-planned thing I would not be good at, like planning an event or buying the right items for a recipe.

The poems I started writing were, as I said, by accident. I was writing the first line of a story, and then I suddenly became looser (drunker?), more willing to follow the flow of my thoughts. I payed closer attention to the pattern in the language and the ideas I was playing with, and from there I built a structure within which I wrote a poem. It was not a structure I knew, but one I made up on the spot, to fit my ideas. A self-serving structure. And then I thought, oh! Oh! Maybe that’s poetry.

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Upon rereading the poem I wrote, though I still can’t judge it for what it is, I can see the ability to make it better. There is a possibility of digging deeper into the idea, because now I can identify it. There is a way of being more faithful to the structure, because it exists. There is the question of specificity, and rhythm, and feeling, and all that can be dealt with now that there is a poem in front of me, a life form waiting to be better moulded and presented to the world, though maybe not The New Yorker.

It occurs to me now that this is the only way I could have ever written poetry, by discovering what poetry is for myself. I find myself wanting to read poetry now (at least the first few lines of one), thinking of a person sitting there and sculpting a thing out of nothing. And I wonder, as I often do, why no one ever told me this. Why did no one ever run up to me and tell me to read Walden, to listen to Destroyer, to watch Noah Baumbach movies? Don’t people actively follow my interests, seeking to give me guidance? Actually, they don’t! So the discovery of Lorrie Moore, of e.e. cummings, of ukulele and trail running become all the greater when done independently. Hey! I like this. Now let me find out why.

Unsure How Much to Shovel

In Inspiration, Thoughts on Writing on December 12, 2015 at 6:40 pm

I found myself today

a) shovelling

b) unsure how much exactly to shovel

Do you want to shovel just to get a packed surface so your boots aren’t sinking into deep snow? Or are you supposed to shovel down to the soil, the stair, the icy road? Then you get that brown mixing in with the snow and it doesn’t look so nice. Also, it involves a certain thoroughness I don’t want to do.

I’m afraid someone might come and see the outcome of my shovelling, I guess is what it comes down to. And I’m concerned that I might have misinterpreted what the point of shovelling is and be embarrassed by their reaction. So I just wanted to check.

Do we shovel to make things as they were, or do we shovel to make things a little bit better? Should I really try that hard when I’m shovelling, or should I satisfy myself with the fact that I shovelled at all?

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(photo from crossfitnickelcity.com) 

Of course, as we know from Sex and the City, this is about more than shovelling. When I read a book, should I read it to the end? When I watch TV, should I put down the other thing I’m doing? When I heat up last night’s dinner, do I really need to wait until all of it is completely hot? Life is a spectrum, and I would like it sometimes if someone told me where I am supposed be on it.

I know someone who cries multiple times in conversations, because of passion. Am I supposed to be there? Am I supposed to know everything about a thing I am teaching before I start teaching it? What about writing, how deep to go with each line, how far to take a story before letting it go? I think we all want to be good at shovelling, but I don’t know whose standards it is that we are supposed it to meet.

I went inside halfway through shovelling the path to the back lane because I realized I’m not actually going to use that path today. I just dropped the shovel and turned around and went inside. I figure it isn’t what I would like from a mortgage broker, or a surgeon, but it’s an okay thing to set idiosyncratic standards as a writer, as a teacher. Because a lot of the time it’s me making up where the ground is, the icy street or the stairs, and I have to decide if I’m willing to get there or not, or if for today, and maybe forever, we don’t need to even make that path to the back lane! Let’s just not walk there!

Places to Write

In Inspiration, Thoughts on Writing on December 1, 2015 at 9:30 pm

Outside, when windy. Everything gives up and blows away.

A big desk, for people with job-jobs. Leave your work scattered, like you must return soon.

Frozen nights, paper lit by fire.

Alone, with only ghosts watching you.

In public, naked.

At a coffee shop, a hot chocolate on your face and on your paper, a good song in your ear.

Under a table, writing about people’s shoes and deepest secrets.

Wherever you please, at certain key hours.

Whenever you please, on your favourite chair.

In Mondays and on December.

From your head, the tip of your pen, the nubs of your fingers, the first of your thoughts.

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Here! Now!

Tomorrow. Yesterday.

The cabin in the woods or the train in Europe or the garret in Paris or the classroom in college.

In your heart or your lover’s heart or your mother’s heart.

Inside of your head but never on paper.

In a Moleskine notebook your ex-boyfriend bought you at graduation but you never opened because you stopped talking and was he judging you, by buying you only a notebook when he should have really bought you a necklace, something beautiful, something lasting?

Inside a memory, a hard drive.

Or maybe

it’s less about

where you write,

and more about where you leave it

once you do it.

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