Stages and Stanzas

When I began to write poems again, my process seemed to follow certain stages. The sequence could be fast or slow, but it was predictable, and I found it both frustrating and enjoyable.

Stage 1 is the itch, the feeling of unease and discontent I get when I haven’t written a poem in a while.
Stage 2 is the idea; the desire to write a poem about a certain thing (this can precede the first stage if it’s a fertile time.)
Stage 3 is stream-of-consciousness, almost prose, just scribbling down the images or thoughts as fast as I can write.
Stage 4 is the hook. That’s the moment when at least the first draft kind of takes shape–what kind of voice, a binding metaphor, or one key line that gives me the shivers.
Stage 5 is revision, which I enjoy doing on paper with a great deal of energetic crossing out. Although I haven’t had a lot of formal training, I seem to do a lot of what poetry books advise: check for cliches, experiment with different voices, try going in different directions from certain points, trim off extraneous words or parts (it’s interesting how often I find the entire last stanza of a poem is unnecessary!)
Stage 6 is the moment when I call it a completed draft, and I begin the process of falling in love. Not that it could never be revised again, but this version of it exists and I have a relationship with it.

Between stage 1 and stage 6, I feel pregnant. I’m aware of having something in process, and I’m looking forward to the time when it will be done and out of me. It was a linear sequence, when I began to write again, because it was one poem at a time. But things have speeded up inside my head, and I have more appreciation for revision as a longer process…so I must learn to incubate many poems in progress.

Yesterday I did some stage 3 scribbling about an idea; a real event from my childhood popped into my mind and I began to write details down. Colors, textures, the scent of snow and the alien thoughts of a six-year-old, on their way to creating something that is not a poem about a child at all…and that’s it. It’s not ready to go any further, so it’s incubating away. Coexisting with a stage 2 idea, a stage 4 mess with words but no clear hook, and a stage 1 itchiness that wants to PUSH one of them out.

This is where I need to learn from more experienced poets. I need to learn how to be content with five, ten, a hundred unfinished things in my head; perhaps to thrive on the state and see it as the desirable one.

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