So I know that the language I often use for this blog to talk about writing is architectural for the most part, but I have not always thought of it this way. On the one hand, I see students and other writers who see a piece of writing, a paragraph, say, as a brick wall that cannot be changed without actually breaking it apart and making a mess and then getting new bricks and more mortar, and it all seems to be much more work than they are willing to do. And I tell them, well, okay, if it must be a wall, make it out of Legos not bricks, because then you can change the size and color and try to do it a whole bunch of different ways quickly and easily and with some sense of fun.
And they often respond, “Huh.”
I do tend to think of words as small varicolored toys of varying sizes and infinite complexity, but that is more often when I feel that either I am in control of a piece of writing or, at the very least, or perhaps best, the writing is in control of the writing and I just have to let it come through my hands.
Alas, as we know, most writing doesn’t work that way, even for a bloody productive writer like me (last count: 48 days, 79 poems, 100 pages). Sometimes a piece of writing, or a part of it, kicks your butt for days, weeks, even months. In this case, where I can’t see a way in to simply take out pieces and replace the working parts, I start to think of the poem as being more organic, something that needs to grow, without me doing the growing. All I can do is water and weed and wait.
That is when it helps to have a writing buddy to kick back for you, or if you are very fortunate, a midwife. For years, my Poetry Midwife, Pamela read my poems when I was stalled out. Usually her answer to my dilemma, though phrased much more diplomatically and kindly, was basically, “The ending sucks.” Over and over, I just couldn’t end the thing right. Either I was overwriting or underwriting (which sounds like I was selling insurance) or just not, well, right-writing.
The beauty, however, of having the same problem over and over is that once you have finally figured out how to fix it, you have practically no problems left, until the next one comes along. So I got to the point where, when I was stuck on a poem and ready to pass it to her for help, I said to myself, “Self, I bet you she is going to say (nicely) that the ending sucks. So fix the ending first, self, before you send it to her.”
And somewhat magically that left her saying things like, “I really like this one.” Period. Success! And in my gratitude for all she did for me, I wrote her the following poem.
The Midwife’s Poem
Rub your hand across this mound
of words. Do they kick? Does the rhythm
move your hand? How fast does that
counter-rhythm heartbeat flutter behind?
Does it fly in time? What kind of moth
child trembles under your hand, under
the skin of the poem? Is it drawn to the heat
of your palm? Does it hear yet another counter-
rhythm, the heartbeat that you bring
to your silent, mulled questioning?
Every few weeks, I come to you for this
questioning, this touch you have for rhythms
and the reasons behind them. Without you, yes,
I might gestate properly, but anxiety, the ache
in the night, might slow this mothchild’s growth
in me. You have a touch, softer than feathers
on a warm breeze, for the unborn delicate grey
wings, for the dark hot blood pumping, pumping
into each phrase, each stanza. You deliver
them, living, into the pale papery light.
Reminds me a bit of these lines from Hopkins:
See, banks and brakes
Now leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
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