Behind the Purple Door--One Way In
One of the writing strategies I like to use almost every time I begin a draft is to generate a list of words from another source, from a book of poetry or fiction or from almost anything written that's lying about. Sometimes there's some intentionality and sometimes not. I look for words that aren't in my personal lexicon--not that I don't know them, but I may not think to use them. Then I prop up that list of words in front of me at the computer or on my lap. SOMETIMES a word on that list will generate an entire poem.
I'm always looking for a way in--and about 80% of the time I'd say, my poems spring from a list. There's nothing proprietary about a list of words from another source, but I love how the list pushes me in a new direction or actually becomes the prompt or allows me to use much fresher language than I might otherwise. It eliminates hum-drum, I hope.
I've divined words from poetry books like Break the Habit by Tara Betts and Maggie Smith's Good Bones, and Pattiann Roger's book, Holy Heathen Rhapsody. and even a fiction book, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. I still marvel at what gets spit out on the page. I've read through entire books circling words as I read or just found and used a single longer poem. Rarely am I looking for a specific type of word for a specific subject. Rather, the goal is to gather words that do not seem to fit together or the subject, if there is one. The list IS my entry to the draft whether I'm writing about Frida Kahlo, the hospice caregiver bathing my mother, or my brother's childhood clubhouse.
This past week I wrote a draft of a poem currently titled either "Un-dream" or "Upfront." I had been reading through poems in the anthology section of Amorak Huey and Todd Kaneko's new book, Poetry: A Writers' Guide and Anthology.
My list for the poem I was working on this week--"Un-dreaming/Upfront"--was periphery, feistiness, sachet, lustrous, and quaint. Usually, the list is much longer, but the word "sachet" leaped at me, and I needed a poem draft that day to take to my writing critique group. As it turns out, I only used one word from my list, but more often I mayuse six or seven or more of the words from a list of twenty, for example.
Here's an excerpt from the poem which ended up being about a dream and The French Lieutenant's Woman and Diego Rivera and . . .
"all while I pretend to be more the me of me,
daffodils and bunny-shaped sugar cookies with red hots for eyes,
until I remember tucking sachet in with the thigh-high
black stockings and the pink garter belt
so they’ll smell of lavender
next time I tug them out, who knows when,"
Part of me can't imagine not writing this way. I've been doing it so long. One of my mentors, Alice George, used to talk about a poem's "front porch" as the beginning of a poem that got you to where the heat of the poem was, got you to the real poem you wanted to write. You built this elaborate porch but you didn't need it. I think of my strategy, my list, as "the purple door." The entrance. My entrée.
11/16/2022 02:38:51 pm
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1/28/2023 07:55:39 am
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