Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3
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The Voice of the Poem

Sure, most of my poems begin with a single word or phrase—a single image or memory—often taken from a Google Doc titled “Spare Limb Folder vol. II.” Current offerings from the queue include vulpine, mansard, abscond, and Day never the right tilth. Right now, I am watching smoke curl from my neighbor’s chimney on a cold January morning in Virginia, and surely that image—this moment—will end up in the document and eventually find its place in a poem.

But the poem doesn’t really begin here. This document is merely the toolbox from which I grab the precise instrument the poem requires. The poem begins as a feeling and is an insufficient attempt to translate that feeling into language. An image or memory sparks an emotion that I attempt to trace, follow to see where it might lead me and what I might discover. Another way of looking at it might be that the poem—the feeling itself—is an interpretation of the world, of being an individual human.

Usually, I know a poem is coming on because I am aware of it building inside me. For hours—sometimes days—certain images and lines begin to take shape in the mind before they appear on the page. Then suddenly, a poem exists where one didn’t exist before. There’s a moment while writing when the language gets away from me, and all I can do is try and keep up. Those poems I consider my best are always ones I don’t remember writing. Looking them over, they seem to be written by someone else entirely.

I attribute this distance to what I call the voice of the poem. More often than not, I must find this voice before a poem can take shape. Above all else, perhaps, it is the voice that leads me. I don’t like to think too critically about process because I believe a little mystery should be left. As long as the voice continues to guide me to different fields of discovery, I don’t question its origin.  

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