It’s been fifteen months since I posted my last original poetry. It hasn’t been fifteen months since I wrote my last poem, but a lot has happened in the last fifteen months and WitGlass posts and podcasts took a backseat. This poem was one of the poems I wrote in response to our family dog’s recent death. (I spoke about this in WitGlass Unfiltered #85: Emma Jane Huntington, R.I.P.)
This WitGlass Original Poetry presentation is slightly different. Much of my professional career has involved teaching writing. I was an editor at a publishing company, and I have taught writing professionally to high school, college, and adult students for close to twenty years. One of the reasons I teach writing is that I enjoy the process. I enjoy the process of writing, and I enjoy the process of watching others write.
The poem I am presenting to you today is a finished poem—but it is not a polished poem. When I write poetry, I write in stages. The stages never have a time component; each stage is simply finished when it is finished. I have never written poetry to a deadline nor tried to compose a certain number of poems in a certain amount of time. I do write my daughter a poem each year for her birthday, and so you could say that those poems are written to a deadline, but that’s the closest I’ve come to writing to a deadline.
The first stage of my poetry writing process involves the writing of the main body of the poem and could take a couple hours or it could take a couple years. Usually it takes a couple days to a couple weeks. It depends in part on how busy my schedule is and on how easily the poem develops. When I’m done with this stage, I have what I consider at that point to be a “finished” poem, by which I simply mean that the poem is complete, though not necessarily refined.
Once I have a finished poem, I read through it over and over, both silently and aloud, trying to get a sense for the flow of the poem. My goal in writing is always to write “for the ear,” meaning that I want whatever I’m writing to sound good when it’s read aloud. This is especially important for poetry. Poetry has a more definite rhythm, even if it is unmetered and unrhymed, what is typically referred to as free verse. So I read and reread my poem.
As I’m reading the poem, I listen for anything that sounds out of place or undesirably breaks up the rhythm of the line. What I’m looking for here is flow—I want the words of the poem to flow like water in a river. Sometimes river water courses slowly, sometimes quickly; sometimes calmly, sometimes turbulently—but it always flows. Sometimes the river water may even dam up here or there, but even in these little dams, where the water may be pooling temporarily, the water finds its way around the dam eventually.
I don’t mind little dams or eddies in my poetry, but I don’t want any hydroelectric dams in my river of words. So I repeat and repeat and repeat. If there’s a dam in my poem, I want it to be a meaningful dam, an intentional dam. If, on the other hand, I intended to have a little dam, I don’t want instead for the flow of words in that spot to be merely rough waters flowing over large rocks; I want the words to pool up as they seek a way around the barrier.
Whether or not I achieve this isn’t really for me to say. Though my reader won’t know what I intended for the flow to be at various points within the poem, the reader will sense how the actual flow proceeds—and, of course, different readers may sense the flow differently based on their background and personal reading styles—and I can only hope that my reader’s sense of the flow will match what I intended. But I desire to create a flow that is at least somewhat predictable in its variants, so when I read and reread, I even try reading the poem with varying rhythms to see if I can get a sense of the range of probable flows different readers will find as they read the poem.
Once I’ve done this and made any necessary revisions, I move on to the next stage: waiting. I put the poem aside and simply let it steep. How long do I let the poem sit? There is no set schedule for this. Sometimes I’ve set a poem aside for hours, sometimes for days, sometimes for years. And I never decide that the poem is in its final form until I’m satisfied that it feels right.
The poem I am delivering to you today is in this middle stage, steeping. I Have left all of my typical draft and time annotations so you can see how long this poem took and how I mark each draft of a poem that I write. This is only draft one. Will there be a second draft? I can’t say. I don’t know. I might set the poem aside for a time and then decide when I look at it again that it’s perfect as it is. It’s equally likely that I will write three more drafts before I settle on a final draft.
I’ve decided to bring you in to the process this time, though, and that’s because I’m a teacher. I love openness, dialogue, sharing, mentoring, learning—I love the process. So, at least for this one poem, I’m planning to share every draft with you, along with other notes as they develop. I also plan to read this draft on an upcoming episode of WitGlass Unfiltered. I will update this post with the link to that episode when it’s available. Enjoy.
Every Day on Earth
—DRAFT ONE— (b. 19 August 2018; f. 22 August 2018)
Every day on earth there’s someone— Someone living Someone dying Someone loving Someone crying Someone in a temper flying Someone doing wrong denying Every where on earth there’s someone— Someone hiding Someone daring Someone hoping Someone caring Someone in a kitchen paring Someone with a heart that’s tearing Every hour on earth there’s someone— Someone rising Someone falling Someone racing Someone crawling Someone in a bathroom bawling Someone with a crush that’s stalling Every place on earth there’s someone— Someone selling Someone buying Someone saving Someone trying Someone in a coffin lying Someone on a friend relying Every day the world goes round Every where the sun goes down Every hour a bell is rung Every place a picture hung Every day I want to hear Every where that love is near Every hour throughout the day Every place along life’s way
[First Draft, 22Aug2018]