Creative Process


The poet says poetry demands that readers and thinkers slow down. Just as a poem emerges out of careful attention, it demands and recreates that kind of attention within the reader. Poems are the antithesis of the sound bite; they are antidotes to polarisation.

How to Write Poetry at Five Books

Every day an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic chooses five books on their specialist subject. From Einstein to Keynes, Iraq to the Andes, Communism to Empire.

There are two elements in “finding” a poem: discovering the subject matter and locating the concrete details and images out of which the poems are built. In this instance, I do not mean the subject matter to be the ideas or subjects for poems. Instead, I am referring to finding the resonant sources deep inside you that empower those subjects and ideas when they are put in poems. For example, I am made of the landscape in northern California where I grew up, made of my father’s uninhabited mountain where my twin sister and I spent most of our time as small children with the live oak trees, the stillness, the tall grass, the dry smell of the hot summer air where the red-tailed hawks turned slowly up high, where the two of us alone at ten did the spring roundup of my father’s twenty-six winter-shaggy horses. Down below there were salmon in the stream that ran by our house, the life of that stream and the sound of it as we lay in our bunks at night, our goat and the deer standing silently outside in the mist so many mornings when we awoke. The elements of that bright world are in my poetry now when I write about love or Nicaragua or the old gods in the rocky earth of Greece, just as the Greek islands where I lived for almost five years resonate in the poems I write now about the shelter for abused women in Manhattan or how a marriage failed in New England—but not directly. They are present as essences. They operate invisibly as energy, equivalents, touchstones, amulets, buried seed, repositories, and catalysts. They function at the generating level of the poems to impregnate and pollinate the present—provoking, instigating, germinating, irradiating—in the way the lake high up in the Sierra mountains waters the roses in far away San Francisco.

Linda Gregg

Odds and Ends

An evil swamp meadow, burnt and sawed.
Invisibly small lives hum and rummage in fearful humidity.  Among the stumps
lean six pine saplings, the bare slender trunks
tipped with cone-shaped tufts of needled twigs:
greenery arrowheads.  What made these arrow-trees
fall here notch first and sink their feathers
under the lava flow of golden weed —
what, beyond some whim and power of nature
and ideal of the painter, inexpressible in words?

I was glad as always to leave the museum
and regain the town and again be living
in a picture, restored to our nature as pilgrims
for the ideal law.  But when the walk did not turn
and open on the sea, as map misreading had told me,
my eyes settled on a fallen rhododendron flower.
Its petals, intact and perfect, were in fact
not petals but five rays of a single disc,
shadowy rose, with a circular hole at center.
It was a skirt for a dead Romantic waist:
the upturned, golden, hammer-headed pistil
had fit there, with its garden of ten stamens waving
ovular flecks, and these remained above
on their bush withering, while the shed pink dirndl
was put away in the grass.

                                            O clothes she wore
and we put them away for her to wear again
someday, and today they lie there still.

A. F. Moritz

from The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2008
published by Tightrope Books

Moritz‘s poem is taken from The Best American Poetry blog and from a post by Canadian poet Molly Peacock.  Peacock takes on the task of trying to articulate the differences between Canadian and American poetry.  Her thesis is interesting and pretty good fun.  I can even see the ways her metaphor for the differences is accurate, though no attempt to theorize the differences can really do the job imo.  I find Moritz an interesting choice since he was born and educated in Ohio.  Peacock doesn’t take note of this.  Although Moritz has been a Canadian citizen for years, I wonder if a “more” Canadian poet would have been a better choice, or if Moritz’s “Canadian” style can be attributed to a “Canadian” personality?

In a second post on a different subject – the connections between BritPo and CanPo – Peacock includes Moritz’s comment on the making of this poem:

“Odds and Ends” describes a painting by Emily Carr in the city art gallery of Victoria, and, more particularly, the experience in which my viewing of the painting was set.  Leaving the gallery, I walked through the surrounding neighborhoods, thinking to come out soon on the ocean, but it turned out to be a long walk on a hot humid day:  I’d misunderstood my map.  And in a front yard I saw a rhododendron petal . . .

For American readers Peacock adds that Emily Carr is an iconic Canadian painter, similar to Georgia O’Keefe for Americans.  (Though I find it rather sad that it’s assumed that American readers won’t be familiar with the wonderful Emily Carr! – is that assumption based on the infamous Canadian inferior complex?  or is it just true?) Yup, there are some similarities between Carr and O’Keefe.  In fact, Sharon Udall wrote a book on Carr, O’Keefe and Frida Kahlo that lead to a wonderful exhibition of their work – I saw it three times – and included fascinating archival photos of the artists at work along with 60 exhibits:

Carr Forest

There is much we can never know about the inner workings of an artist’s mind, but there is much we can learn-much that emerges in the process of comparing creative lives and achievements. The exhibition will invite comparison without imposing it. In their searches for identity, for example, Carr, Kahlo and O’Keeffe shared a number of important concerns. How was each artist’s self consciousness reflected? How did these women relate to an art world in which the masculine is privileged? And how did they respond to the feminine in themselves?

Carr, O’Keeffe and Kahlo each rooted herself in a part of the Americas, and reinvented the image of that place in her paintings. This exhibition probes the unique, sometimes conflicted identities developed within lives imprinted with courage, passion and integrity.

Udall’s book, Carr, Kahlo and O’Keefe: Places of their Own includes beautiful colour plates of the artists’ work and a fascinating exploration of gender, place and identity in the creative process.

You can see Emily Carr’s Odds and Ends at the ARTBase online gallery here.  Molly Peacock’s poems are at Canadian Poets.

NOTE:  Poet David Cavanagh, a dual citizen of Canada and the US, is at work on a collection of poems that explore the “perils and possibilities” of living on borders.