Writing a poem: how I see it

by | Jan 24, 2024 | Reflections

People often ask me to tell them more about how I see the act of poetry creation. I can’t think of a better way to express it than my preface to “Flotsam and Jetsam: a half-life of poems”, so here it is.

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You are invited on a journey—twenty and more years of flotsam and jetsam washing onto my beach, the ebb and flow of life’s residues seen or felt drifting on lazy horses or contemplative winds. Bits of wreckage, stuff thrown overboard to lighten the ship’s load, anything that no longer serves its purpose. Sea creatures and their remnants wash up too. Molluscs, crabs, shells, kelp, the odd fish or bird skeleton, even a whale bone.

I love walking on beaches, the emptier the better. What strange things one finds, spewed from shipping lanes or the ocean depths. Pick one up, turn it over, try to make sense of it. Lift your hand against the sun’s glare. What else is scattered on the sand? A thrill rises in your chest. Connections emerge, poetry begins to form. You say to Life “I want to know you.” Life accepts, and so a poem, shyest of all writing, allows itself to be coaxed from shelled creatures and other debris lying there waiting to be discovered. Sometimes word by word, perhaps months or years apart, like the ocean’s slow grinding of rock to sand, or all at once in a tidal rush. The poem woos you, lures you into a trance of meaning – secret currents, forgotten places just beyond your grasp. Just … reach … a little … further.

Let’s call them bohèmes sometimes, gypsies of the soul. They are children of faith. Like tides, they ebb and flow, a fine balance between reining in and letting go. First, there is the contract. You marry Life; the bohème begins to distil from your swirling passions. As with all relationships, there’s only one guarantee: there will be growth if you allow it. For better or worse, you embark on each intoxicating line. For richer or poorer, stanzas arrive in blazes of glory only to be snuffed out when unable to withstand the scrutiny of hindsight. As you brace yourself against birth pangs, you inherit a worthy heir – a vehicle through which your fleeting moments might live on. But just as no child can be expected easily, do not expect bohèmes to be obedient to your flat-earth constraints of what is.

As Wordsworth said, “The Child is father of the Man.”

When the bohème is finally born, do not hinder its passage, lest it be starved of air in its most vulnerable moment. Let it scream its rebel life to you. Rejoice, for this moment will never rumble its wheels this way again, nor anywhere in all eternity.

When the pain is over, and your soul is wrung dry, let the bohème sleep. Return occasionally to stroke its cheek. Tweak it here and there, see if it responds with a yawny smile. Find that one word that eludes you. Delight in trepidation as your creation becomes its own self. Discover delicious parallels, concurve double meanings, subtle shades, nuances. Learn from it, the bairn of your soul. Stand in awe and humility: in your smallness, you have consummated beauty, breathed spirit to matter.

Poems are shy exhibitionists. It’s taken a long time for me to draw the courage to publish, but at some point, I accepted the truth of the fancy idea I so confidently elucidated: somehow, they really do become their own beings. I hope that this collection brings something like light to your life, that you may refract onward.

View the virtual launch of my first book Flotsam and Jetsam: a half-life of poems, which was held on 1 Feb 2021. 

Flotsam and Jetsam is available on Amazon.

Written by Lana Hunneyball

Editor I Writer I Author I Poet

I believe in the power of words to connect, inspire, and transform.

"Life is giving birth to yourself" ~ Erich Fromm

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