Tuesday, November 18, 2008
P. O. D. - Poetry On Demand
I was approached to submit some work appropriate for a collection about the late Canadian poet Al Purdy and the land he wrote about. The one aspect was not difficult. Purdy lived in the land at the edge of the Canadian Shield, that ancient gray granite slab that surrounds Hudson's Bay and covers most of Central Canada, loved it, and became part of it. I grew up in the same space, a few counties east. With both of us, our poetry lies rooted in that land. This became a matter of chosing which poems.
The other part was to write about Al. This was difficult because, although I have looked at him and his influence on my own poetry, we were never close acquaintances or friends; I had never felt moved to write to him or about him. And now someone is asking me to write a poem for a project, to write on demand. I can see no excuse and so do my best.
The thing about writing on demand is that my method is not conducive to this approach to writing. I am indifferent; it may work for others but seldom/never for me. I can remember so-called "poetry sweatshops" where a topic would be announced to "contestants" and a certain amount of time given for composition before public presentation to an audience and a panel of judges. Some were swift with fine poetic pieces under such constrictions. Not I.
The same goes for "writing exercises." Some writers thrive on being set a challenge, They grab it, worry it, shake it, shape it. Not I. The whole concept leaves me cold.
It probably has much to do with the process that for me produces the poem. My poem usually starts with a fragment: an idea, an image, the sound of a phrase, the feel of words in the mouth. Sometimes I think I have lost more good poems in this stage than have come through. I'll try to write something down, to encapsulate it for later worrying. Even then I sometimes lose the core of it.
To write a poem I need time, both mine and the poem's. If parts of the poem come together in my head I need to be able to stop and work at it. If I make time, if I set a certain amount of time each day aside for poetry, it leads to frustration. Seldom do the two come together for me.
And then, when I get a semblance of what I want on a page, it still goes through revision after revision. Some to clarify the thought and its processes. Some to shape the look of the poem on paper (or screen.) Some to modify the sounds in my mind or the sound of its presentation. Often a poem has to be set aside and reapproached at another time. It is only with enough love and craft that a poem assumes its own persona.
So I wrote a poem for Al Purdy. The idea was not difficult; I wanted to do so. The vague idea of what I wanted to say was there. And then I found the image to hang it on. It wasn't a swift production, but when things seemed to fit together the writing, the crafting the polishing for public presentation became possible.
I still don't like to write Poetry On Demand.