Copyright © Christopher Parker
Diving into the dot.
The first challenge when writing poetry
I guess a poem, just like everything we create, has to start somewhere. I’m saying I guess because I’m not really sure. Because even if a poem does have to have start somewhere, with something, I’m not really sure if that thing – that unexpected, unmissable flash of everydayness, that sudden curling of emotion or slashing cut of insight – is, alone, sufficient; if that is the actual starting point.
The great American poet Robert Frost wrote, ‘A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.’ These are experiences we can all relate to. Few, however, attempt to re-present them as poetry. Far fewer still re-present them as poems that resonate across generations and geographical boundaries as Frost did.
And I can’t help but feel that every poet, irrespective of ability, has to do something more with the experience they and others might later refer to as the source of their inspiration than simply experience it.
I guess in the first place the individual has to have some instinct to want to write a poem, some sense of poetic identity. Otherwise, they might share the experience as a painting or a song or an emotional outburst, or communicate it any of the other myriad ways we exchange who and how we are with those around us.
In the second place, the individual seeking to act on their poetic instinct has to be willing to plumb the depths of their experience, to search for its very essence, to discover the answer to the most important question:
Just what is it precisely that I am compelled to write about?
For my own part, I think of this journey into understanding – or at least gaining an insight into - the very nucleus of the experience as diving into the dot. I’ve found this to be the first of the great challenges when seeking to write poetry.
The dot is the innermost heart of the experience. It is at once the cause and the effect. It is both the irresistible happening and the emotion, insight and remembering it leaves behind. The dot is the inescapable source that touches, tugs, dares you to write then disappears again into the mass of noise and movement that surrounds it. In our world the dot is the personal, the particular and the universal squeezed smaller than an atom, pulsing at the core of every interaction. In the universe the dot is the singularity at the centre of a black hole.
The challenge occurs not just because of the nature of the dot but also because, by the time we have recognised there is something to write about, it has already morphed into something else, something we are aware of and so turned into thought. Only, thought based on what? Inevitably our environment or mood, our desires and beliefs influence our thoughts. So do many other things. Consequently, the instant we begin thinking about the dot – the wordless essence that sparked our need to write – we are already distancing our self from it and, potentially, adding other influences to it.
Diving into the dot means immersing our self as fully as we can in the first instance, to commit without recourse to analysis or forward planning, to simply be as present and available as we are able; to trust in our capacity to absorb learning simply through experience.
This matters because we not only have to dive into the dot, we then have to surface with its essence clear – paradoxically perhaps even wordless – in our mind. To have any chance of this, we need to have dived deeply whilst creating as little disturbance as possible. We need to have flooded our senses and been open to transformation. Then, back on normal ground, the next great challenge arises: in order to share that essence we have to start writing.
We’ll consider that next time.