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Tuesday, February 12, 2013


We went away for the three-day weekend here in Japan. We went to the land of snow, in the mountains, since we don't usually have snow accumulating on the ground here in Kobe, and I have this fear that when my children are grown there won't be snow for them to enjoy, due to global warming (a gut fear, I admit, not one well researched). I took along on our trip an image I have been trying to build into a poem for the past year. I have worked that image and reworked it, and gotten some strong language to describe it, but then I have come to a deadend. I didn't know what to do with it once I had described it. So I brought it along on our trip.

After a long day of playing in the snow, I was back in our hotel room where there was an electric massage chair, and I was enjoying a massage, when I suddenly had an idea about what to do with the image, how to further it into a poem. It was a great reminder to me that new ideas often come when the mind is abandoned and the body is the focus of attention. For me that usually means being in the shower, and I know there are lots of writers who have revelations in the bath or the shower. I've heard this phenomenon attributed to the water, but I wonder if it isn't more due to the sensual experience of the body, bringing one out of the conscious mind, making space for the subconscious mind. A good hard walk will sometimes produce the same results. But all of these things only work when I've been focusing on a specific problem in a poem; then a breakthrough will sometimes come during a physical experience. For me, at least, this never results in a new poem or idea, but in solutions to problems for which the conscious mind has exhausted its options.

Here is the revelation that came to me. I had recently read Richard Siken's "Details of  a Hayfield," and had wondered at how he had moved from a description of walking into a hayfield to an observation about generosity, or the lack of recognizing our need for generosity. I marvelled at how he had done this so seamlessly. And sitting there in the massage chair, I saw how I could attempt to do something similar (though I'm sure with much less skill) with my image.

There was something I had been trying to keep out of the poem with the image. Originally, after seeing this curious image, I had become contemplative about my own mortality, but I hadn't wanted to go there in the poem--to such a small personal emotion with regards to this curious image that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with someone else's bigger experience.

But in not acknowledging how this image had actually affected me, I was being dishonest. And that dishonesty was stymying the poem. Not that I think that poems have to be direct reportage of what happened, and what was felt--obviously not. But by not acknowledging the smallness of my response to the poem, and my shame at my smallness, particularly my shame, I was ignoring the power behind the image for me.

Once I acknowledged my shame, lines came, more images came, and the poem is now drafted in a form which I think will be its final form. It's not polished yet, but there is power finally in the imagery and the words.

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