Poem-Making, the Process

Note: This was originally posted on 4/16/08 at the Scribes' Tribe Scribbings blog as part of an April poetry workshop.

pen.bmpWhat is your process for writing poetry?

I’ve only recently started thinking about process. Maybe that’s because I’ve only recently had folks interested in my work enough to ask. At first, I really had no clue how to describe my personal process. I’ve come to realize that process for me is a fluid entity, something that remains constantly changing.

For example, last year I wrote a lot of narrative poems and political/socially driven poems. So whenever I wrote in my notebook, I’d tuck away the random phrases and metaphors that came to me for future use. Whenever I was struck upside the head with a complete idea, I would start writing, and then go back to my notes to see if anything I’d written before “fit” within the piece I was working on. This worked well at the time. I knew where I wanted to take the reader, and then added in images and descriptions from my notebook that correlated with that concept.

Lately I’ve drifted from the conventional narrative of my previous poems, and toward something less linear, more disjointed. I wouldn’t call it fully abstract, but definitely not as organized as my previous style. This style shift has impacted my process. No longer do I just store things away for future use – sometimes I take a phrase I think of and run with it in order to see where it takes me. I no longer feel like I need to always know where I’m going with a concept before I start writing.

I mostly write free verse, so I rarely have the constraint of remaining in a certain pattern (unless it is of my own creation). That is a personal choice, but I can see myself trying some forms, such as sestinas or villanelles, in the future.

When I think of process, I feel the following things are important:

  • Realize that your process can be fluid and remain in flux. You can change from what you “have always done” and still be a good writer. The only thing holding you back is fear.
  • Don’t be afraid to try something new. You might find a different voice yearning to come out of you…or a voice that was always there, but you never bothered to listen to.
  • Make sure what you are doing works for your style and personality. I have friends who write using their own methods, and can cookie-cutter a whole poetry manuscript in a single night if they so desired. However, if I employed their methods, I wouldn’t write a single word.