Guest blogger, Alice Shapiro
I practiced handwriting. I practiced speaking my poems before presenting to an audience, but I don’t think I ever practiced writing a poem in the tradition of Michelangelo et al. who might paint a drapery detail over and over before setting brush to canvas.
On the other hand, I only studied poetry for one year. In class we were given exercises that introduced us to various formal elements of a poem, but honestly my brain does not work like that anymore. I do admit to a previous insatiable appetite for discovering the reasons for everything. Like a child contemplating why the sky is blue, I would investigate medical texts, obscure philosophical and psychological treatises, scientific theories, spiritual concepts, and of course never found answers—only more questions.
Fortunately, life interfered with my impractical tendencies and, through hardship, I learned to live in the moment, especially when writing. In a poetry critique group that I facilitate we have a PhD English Professor who is very form oriented to the point of counting lines. I look at him in disbelief thinking “how sad,” but then wonder if I have simply lost my mind.
So, I don’t really practice writing poems, I merely write them as if I were diving off a cliff into the ocean.
Now, take my favorite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. He puts his process right there on the page for all to see:
‘I must hunt down the prize’
I must hunt down the prize
Where my heart lists.
Must see the eagle’s bulk, render’d in mists,
Hang of a treble size.
Must see the waters roll
Where the seas set
Towards wastes where round the ice-blocks tilt and fret
Not so far from the pole.
Must see the green seas roll
Where waters set
Towards those wastes where the ice-blocks tilt and fret,
Not so far from the pole.
(My impression is to favor the first version. Which do you prefer?)
However, I’m not sure this would be considered practicing either, because Hopkins did not choose one over the other, but presented us with the variation as if it were a series, and perhaps a unique format. I am not aware of any prior use of this poetic device.
When I write a poem, I edit as I go along. It wasn’t always this way. In the beginning I was quite petrified I would lose my train of thought, so I wrote whatever came to mind. Then I would go back, most successfully after a long period of time, and edit (or in most cases, throw the damned thing out). The current method I am using is much like being in the front seat on a roller-coaster—dipping in and out of deep-feeling consciousness versus reality-based critical seeing. But the thrill is awfully rewarding. Occasionally it feels like I am composing music because I love to use rhythm.
However, I still would not consider this practicing. Each jot on a page is a statement that emerges from my heart (or wherever) to never be held again in the same way. Gone, I imagine it is like the bittersweet joy of watching a child step onto a school bus for the first time. Joy… pride… poignant reality… letting go.
It is a life and death ride each time I take the leap of faith and find the poetry in a crazy and intensely beautiful universe.
Alice Shapiro is the author of two poetry collections, with a third being released in 2011. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Georgia Author of the Year (GAYA), and won the Bill C. Davis Drama Award for a verse tragedy that was produced in New York. Shapiro’s Pushcart audio project “The Change Interviews” is available at Poets House Axe Houghton Multimedia Archives, and she welcomes other poetry nominees and winners to join this ongoing project at www.aliceshapiro.com
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Melissa Corliss Delorenzo
Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo is a writer, reader, yogini, mom, homemaker and the Associate Editor for Her Circle Ezine. She loves to cook and take long walks with her kids and is a woman who wants to meaningfully exchange and intersect with other women writers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She is at work on several novels. Melissa lives in North Central Massachusetts with her family.