The Empty Chair

How many metaphors do we creative types have for those times of feeling blocked, repressed, empty or otherwise unable or unwilling to create?

I chose no picture for several days, and the one I drew from the box today seems quite fitting: a humble wooden chair in a small room, red desk, messy papers and bookshelves. Even what I think might be a crumpled white paper on the floor.

Ill in body and mind, I have not been present in that chair. Grey of thought, I have not looked through that window. Sick with shame and inertia, I have not even climbed the steps to that room.

Today chance brought out this photo (as, it must be admitted, my sole creative effort for the day since I am still not doing too well) and I am taking a moment to look at it.

No poem appears, nor am I feeling a jolt of energy that I will use for another essay or poem.

I am not transported into the room. I am not yet able to reach it–but the room is still there.

The chair is empty, but it is waiting for me.

The Poet of Wickedness

“I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also.”

—–Walt Whitman

Today’s picture prompt made me think of the Shadow.

The jagged, irregular boundary of it in the picture reminds me of how I live inside my head.

Now, I know what Jung says about the Shadow, and how important and valid it is. But right now, I’m just thinking in child’s fairytale terms of light/dark, life/death. Indulge me.

Part of me would like to believe that I am 99% a child of Light (whatever I define that to be) but that is not even close to true.

Suicide prevention is a cause dear to my heart, and the creative pursuit of one more day is part of what my other site is about. I believe I write as a force on the side of life–but when it comes to poetry, it may not seem so clear in my words.

The poet I am is not a nice person.

Even when I write about nice subjects, dark stuff can creep in. When I write about something that’s already not so nice–look out. I’m usually not happy until the result gives me a creepy feeling on the back of my neck and a vague disturbance in the region of my belly button.

So, when I let the darkness run rampant on my page, am I still fighting on the side I believe in? The side I need to pour energy into if I want to stick around here?

Yes.

If “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”—then yes.

What is the Ocean Thinking?

Here is today’s picture prompt. Do you know the most important lesson we learn from prompts? That anything can be an inspiration for a poem. Anything. A poet in touch with his or her creativity need never fear boredom.

Even with an abstract image, I can access a multitude of angles for poem seeds. For an image like the above, there are so many ways to go.

There are the most straightforward ones: A journey. Loneliness. Nature. A character: what is the walker thinking? Where is he or she going? Why?

Oh, but there is so much more. Gestalt theories of dreamwork postulate that everything we see in a dream is a part of our own consciousness. When I look at a picture, I sort of reverse this idea and imagine that anything in it can have a consciousness and a story.

What is the ocean thinking? Or the sand? Or the walking stick? Or the walker’s shoes?

Who or what is seeing this scene from above? What’s the story there?

Is this whole scene happening in someone else’s thoughts? Do they miss the walker or try to imagine what he or she is doing?

Do we want to delve shamelessly into archetypes? We’ve got symbolism from water, mud, traveler/seeker, the rod…have fun.

It may all sound cheesy. One hundred flights of thought may lead to one promising seed–or less.

But contemplating a picture–or any image we see, as long as we do it with conscious intention–invites our creativity in for tea; helps it feel welcome.

And when it feels welcome, it’s more likely to drop by with gifts.

I Took Out a Comma

“This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.”  — Oscar Wilde

I have done this. I have done this actual act, as well as many other “trivial” changes to a poem.

I have altered a line break by one word, and returned it to the first break.

I have changed a word, changed it back, come up with a third and fourth word, juggled the choices, and come to the conclusion that the first word was fine: it’s the following word that needs to be changed.

Why?

There is no logical reason. This is poetry, not geometry, and no two poets would make the same set of revisions. It’s not supposed to make sense to anyone but me. Half the time it doesn’t even make sense to me.

For instance, one of my poems uses the word gray several times. Now, in the US, either gray or grey is considered an acceptable spelling for this word. But in this poem of mine, grey looks and feels wrong, wrong, wrong. It would ruin the whole work in my eyes. It has to be gray with an A.

No logical reason.

I read somewhere that Elizabeth Bishop would tack up poems with one blank space for months until she had just the right word. I’m not sure I have that much patience, but I can understand.

Today, embrace your illogical microtinkering, and I will try to embrace mine.

Here is today’s picture prompt:

 

Picture This

Today's prompt

Today’s prompt.

For about ten days last year, I drew a new picture from a bag as a poem prompt every day. It was meant to be an improv exercise as well as a meditative one; if something I wrote led to the seeds of a more developed poem that was fine.

I gave it up when I found myself missing days. Perfectionism is truly the bane of creativity.

It was a mistake to stop doing it—maybe I would have been inconsistent about it at times, but even the brief foray into daily pictures yielded several poems I am glad to have in my body of work.

The most interesting thing about picture prompts is the space between picture and poem. A shot of a snarling badger becomes a poem about repression of the Self. A shot of a laughing chimpanzee becomes a poem about meeting God. A barren desert landscape turns into a poem that makes people laugh out loud.

Most of the pictures in my stash come from old National Geographic magazines. I obtained about 200 old issues, and find the cutting out of pictures to be therapeutic in times of anxiety. Nature scenes, people, animals…and abstracts. I’ll cut a picture at places that are not the obvious ones if it creates an interesting image. Some of them, on the other hand, are quite dull…it’s up to my imagination to get an idea from them more interesting than “Fuck, that’s a lot of sand.”

I’m thinking I will start to pick a picture every day again–but with some new rules:

1) I am not obligated to write anything inspired by it, but I must leave the picture somewhere in plain sight all day so that random thoughts can percolate.

2) Then I glue it into a binder, so that I can go back to it if I wish.

3) The most important rule: If I forget, blow off or otherwise ignore my picture stash for one or more days (as is not unlikely because hello, imperfect human being) I am allowed to come back to doing it as soon as possible.

Ghost Writings

Are you like me? Do things you did not write cause you more grief than anything you ever have written? Is the pain of the nonexistent greater than the pain of the inadequate or banal? Is it greater than the frustration of the rejected, the outgrown, or the embarrassing?

Go into the palace of your mind, while I go into mine. Find the door that leads to the room of the unadmitted; the room filled with ghostly manuscripts that were never given flesh.

Take one down from the wall, as I do, and open it. Do you feel the way I do? Are you almost, but not quite, able to hold it in your hands? Do your eyes strain to make out the shifting print, amorphous and taunting you with an unreadable message?

Do you apologize to them? Do you promise to let some of them come into being?

Do you admit to yourself that you are lying?

That it can’t be done; that even if you tackle an old idea you can’t recapture the way you would have given it voice in its destined space and time. It might be better in some ways, or not–but that piece of aether, that ghost, will never take its solid form.

Do you pause in the doorway, suspended in currents of regret and acceptance?

I do not think I am the only one. You don’t have to be as old as I am, or have stifled your creativity for as many years as I did, to have a ghost library. We all have one, no matter how large or small.

I cannot change mine. The spirit behind words may be nonlinear, but my personal timeline only moves in a single direction. But when I think about trying to write, I can be conscious of the delicate brush of cobwebs against my skin, reminders of my last visit to that room.

The Sensibility

“If it is all poetry, and not just one’s own accomplishment, that carries one from this green and mortal world–that lifts the latch and gives one a glimpse into a greater paradise–then perhaps one has the sensibility: a gratitude apart from authorship; a fervor and desire beyond the margins of the self.”
–Mary Oliver

I, like many of us, love and admire much of Mary Oliver’s published poetry. I have to admit, though, that my favorite things written by her are lines like the above: prose meditations about the experience of writing poetry. Why to write poetry. Why poetry matters. I believe the above comes from “A Poetry Handbook,” and when I read it I felt a rush of comfort and belonging. She knew. Someone knew, and someone was telling me it’s a good thing to love what I love.

What does “a gratitude apart from authorship” mean to me? I think it means that the words stand for themselves; that a configuration or words has magic that speaks to me whether they were written by me, or you, or my worst enemy.

It means I ask myself whether I would still want to write this poem even if I knew nobody in the world would ever see it. If I knew I would die soon and I’d never get to read it again. If I knew the linear life of this universe was about to depart its track and the words were destined to come apart into cosmic mists.

Would I still want to read? To write? Does it lift that latch; give me that glimpse?

Yes, Mary Oliver. Yes.