What’s the procedure you use when writing a poem? What comes first? For instance, does a topic come to your mind first and then you choose which form to use, and so on?
The process is different for almost every poem. Sometimes a poem emerges from a memory, or from an idea, or from something I've noticed in the course of my day, or simply from a word or phrase that catches my imagination somehow. Once I've figured out where the poem is trying to go, I might think about what forms will help to get it there. Other times, I might give myself a formal challenge—write a sonnet, or write lines that break after seven syllables, or write a poem that would fit on a postcard to an old friend—in order to help myself break out of habit, to push myself out of a rut. Even then, as I revise and rewrite over weeks and months (and sometimes years), I might try out several different forms until I find the one that seems the best fit for what the poem’s language is trying to do.
How did you decide which format and form was right for “From Too Much Dwelling on What Has Been” and “Minute” (both of which appear in The Worcester Review Volume XXXIV)?
After the first few drafts of “From Too Much Dwelling on What Has Been,” I noticed some similarities to Robert Frost’s “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things.” Instead of editing away from Frost’s influence, I decided to try emphasizing it. While my poem uses shorter lines and somewhat clipped rhythms, the quatrains are straight out of Frost and the title is borrowed directly from one of his lines. I really liked the idea of trying to steal Frost’s poem from its rural setting and to fit it around my experience of the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, where I grew up.
In “Minute,” once the language began to feel settled, I wanted to use a caesura similar to the one we see in Anglo-Saxon verse, a space that would open up each line on the page and emphasize the alliterative connections between the halves of each line. Breaking the lines this way—single lines becoming staggered couplets—also seemed like a way to make a line that was both long and short, a way perhaps to mirror the conflict between the improbably small and impossibly large that plays out in the poem.
I enjoyed reading your poems because of how relatable they are. We all have moments when our minds wander off and question the little things that might not be immediately relevant. What does writing poetically about these moments mean to you?
“From Too Much Dwelling on What Has Been” came out of a childhood memory of a fire in Lowell. In my father’s car, waiting to cross one of the bridges over the Merrimack, I asked about the dark smoke and orange glow in the sky, and my father told me what it was. I don’t know why that moment has stayed with me, but it began to seem especially important to me as I moved away from home, as the city continued to change, as even my memories of home began to fade.
I originally wrote “Minute” as part of the poem-a-day challenge during National Poetry Month. About two weeks in, I was already running out of steam, already feeling like I was straining for something to write. As I drove home from work, I happened to notice a bug smeared across my windshield. Later, after several failed attempts to start a poem, I wrote, “I want there to be metaphor in the bugs on my windshield.” With another anniversary of my father’s death on the way, questions about mortality and consciousness weren't far from my mind, and the poem began to take shape.
I’d like to believe that writing about these moments leads to the “momentary stay against confusion” that Frost says a poem should offer. But really, poems are often more interesting to me as attempts to acknowledge the confusion, to enact the mind as it wrestles with the mysteries of the world around me.