Addressing our existing or yet-to-be-created written pieces, page 7 of Room to Write gives us two options:
1) We can compose a new piece of writing without considering what form it will take–that is, approach writing organically and allow the words to dictate their structure, not be boxed into it. The idea is that writers do not and should not try to slot themselves into a specific category of writing–essayists can be poets, poets can be journalists, vice versa and etc., etc. We may be hindering our writing by forcing it into a convention and, even worse, we may be regarding ourselves as failures when we do not succeed in one genre without giving consideration to how we might flourish in another.
2) Spinning off #1, we may instead choose to select a piece we’ve already written in some form or another and rewrite it following an alternative genre: e.g., short story, poem, essay, performance monologue, creative nonfiction, or children’s story.
Given my yammering about my 4th grade poetry anthology in a previous post, I’m going to choose Door #2 and convert one of my existing prose snippets into a poem. It’s not a form that I gravitate to naturally, and I can’t recall any poetry I’ve written since high school (usually of the lovesick teenager variety in my diary) except maybe a sonnet in grad school. So the piece that I am transforming below is something I freewrote and later revised in preparation for inserting into my current book project if it ends up fitting in anywhere.
Late night bath—
The drain releases overhead.
Pausing for a moment’s thought,
Eyes drift unconsciously
To where it nests,
An evening bag in her line of sight.
Eyes plucked from pensive pause,
They focus yet still do not,
Enrapt are they in the celestial body
Of the beading
As though staring into milky heavens,
A private observatory of unrestricted skies,
Free of constellation form
And twinkling the more for it.
Lens zooms in,
Eyes and mind allured,
And only then an awareness
Of rising volume and intensity.
Drops stream then bead
On her skin
Blood courses with new coolness.
stationary to tracking
As she rises
The dazzling hexagon,
Its glittering lid swept open
Its reflective remnants stared into
Seeking out that which sought
In a flicker irretrievable
She sees them:
And glaring back.
I’m not sure what I think of this. It’s nothing profound, but surely something that if I truly sought to perfect as a poem, I could go through countless revisions and take it into even further directions. The original piece is intended for a larger work, so it begs the question whether it can stand alone in poetic genre. I tend to think that it can, as the poetic form allows–if not effectively requires–gaps in the story as it’s explicitly told, instructing the individual reader’s imagination to construct implicit meaning to allow the tale to flow within one’s own interpretation.
I obviously did not take my prose piece word for word, and in deconstructing and reconstructing it in this way, I found myself deleting prepositions left and right and allowing myself to shift into passive voice at times–the beauty of poetry, after all, is that unless you’re writing a traditional one that wears a corset of rules as a sonnet does, there is no strict convention. It does not have to rhyme, it does not have to allot a certain number of syllables per line (not to discount the genius that is Shakespeare’s mastery of iambic pentameter), it does not matter how long or short each line or stanza is (sounding a “barbaric yawp” to you, Whitman!), and grammar and punctuation are a free-for-all (Miss Dickenson, what a rebel in petticoats you were). On this last point, what I did have a hard time with was the punctuation–even knowing that it was entirely up to me and how I deemed it supported my words best, I still gravitated toward conventional mechanics in that respect. Judging when to insert line breaks, however, came more easily, as it’s such a simple yet effective visual tool for emphasizing words and phrases via isolation versus italics, caps, or bold font.
This exercise also brought my attention to the poetic devices already embedded in my original piece, which reassures me that I am incorporating a variety of such in my prose to hopefully better appeal to the senses and facilitate understanding–the ones I spy in particular (and which are color-coded in the poem above) are metaphor, simile, anthropomorphism, alliteration, and assonance. The fact that I did not need to intentionally plant them into the poem for the sake of the activity tells me that I am listening to my words as I write them and endeavoring to paint mental pictures. It is not always that these come through in a first pass, however–actually, while it’s wondrous when they come naturally, it would be too inhibiting to constantly be deliberate in incorporating them when first generating new writing. Instead, it’s good to approach writing the way Goldberg seems to be encouraging us to (and as exemplified in this Dead Poet’s Society clip), by letting go and riding with the current on the first draft. Subsequent revision is then our opportunity for elaborating with detailed description and devices where needed.