I spend my time thinking about strange things. For example, lately I’ve been noticing lots of straight lines. Railroad tracks, tree trunks.
But I’ve also been noticing spirals. Tendrils, pine cones.
Late at night, I try to think about how this particular obsession might work its way into my writing. The obvious question forms: How are people like pine cones and railroad tracks? Ditto life in general. How can I use that in a poem in a fresh way? It’s pretty straightforward, building the metaphors and equivalencies. No trick to them. Of course, then comes the hard work, getting the words right, and taking the poem (and the reader) somewhere surprising.
I can tell I respond most to the spiral, and I suspect it’s why I don’t write fiction. No matter how much the patterns get rearranged structurally – and they get rearranged quite a lot in modern fiction – there is still a story, and something or someone changes because something (it can be quite small) happens. That’s how a story is engineered. I think of it as the structure of a bridge – there’s an arc either above or below it, often beautiful, but the roadway is straight. As a writer, you tell a story so that both a character and a reader cross to the other side. If they turn to look back, they can usually see the water, the bridge, the other side where the story started.
Who wouldn’t love to build something – to write something – as strong and wonderful as that bridge?
But I think the mind of a poet is more like the tendril in the photo above. The curve of the earth is more noticeable, the landscape spins, meaning drifts. Life is a little dizzy, which is not far from ditzy, but also not far from delightful. With a poem, the roadway is not straight, readers can’t turn and see a line from Point A to Point B, the route of cause and effect. Instead of crossing, as I think characters in and readers of stories do, readers fall into a well-crafted poem. And when they turn, when they come back to the poem (don’t we always go back and read through it again, trying to get our bearings, loving the language, trying to make meaning?) the way through it is always different- as if both poet and reader were small bugs, climbing around inside a lily.