Friday, January 6, 2017

Stringing words together

I can make myself write fiction even when nothing particular is sparking, and sometimes things start to flow just because I've taken the time to show up and accept the words in their imperfection. The same isn't true of poetry. When I try to force the issue, I'm invariably unhappy with the result. It's a good idea to hang onto those poems anyway; sometimes a line is worth keeping, or the title gets used for something better. But for me, poems need to grow organically, in a way fiction drafts don't.

I was thinking about that today because the title of a poem leaped into my mind. (Usually I get either the title, or the first line. Sometimes, rarely, both at once.) The title that showed up was "Blood and Chocolate." Not sure yet what it will become. It may take a day or two, or a year, for the rest to make itself known. I'm learning to be okay with that.

But as I gathered up clothes for a load of laundry, I found myself wondering why it was so clearly "Blood and Chocolate," and not "Chocolate and Blood." For the record, I think either would make a good poem, but the latter is not my poem title. I'm not sure why.

That's one of the things I find interesting about writing in general, and poetry in particular. Some things, some sentences or rhythms or combinations of words are just right. And some are just wrong, even if they're grammatically correct. It's a leap of faith, getting from correct to right.

Maybe this is why some people tend to sneer at 'workmanlike' prose or verse. It gets the job done, but avoids taking risks. It conveys the message, but doesn't reach beyond the surface elements of the poem or story.

At least with poetry, there's a tradition of making odd juxtapositions of images, which is a lot of the fun of writing poems. Sometimes I don't take enough risks, because I don't want to create poetry that excludes readers. One of my goals, usually, is to make something that any person can pick up and enjoy at some level, even if some of what I'm doing eludes them. I don't see much value in artistic snobbery; there is beauty in a tumble of stones even before you realize it's the wall of an ancient ruin, decaying in the sun.

Maybe there's no real mystery here. Maybe "Blood and Chocolate" is inevitable, a tidal wash of words beginning on one beach and running to a different stretch of sand. But I can't explain it, not entirely, and I'm not sure it would be wise to try.

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