Inventing the Poet

“In order to write poetry, you must first invent the poet who will write it.” — Antonio Machado


In this year-long lab in Innovative Inventions, we shall experiment

With a variety of elements, chemical compositions, media (including bricks

And Legos, crayons, pen and ink, and the dreams of flightless waterfowl),

Books, of course, lots of books, starting with a dictionary, thesaurus, all

The Peterson’s Guides—for birds, trees, flowers, gems, and librarians of

All stripes. You never know when you will run into the need to identify

Friend or foe, ibex or oboe, atlas or armillary sphere. What kind of poet


Are you going to make? The kind with frilly cuffs or the kind with battered

Shoes and a flannel shirt? The kind with a black beret and a bicycle, or

The kind with cufflinks and a VW Bug? Will the poet write in Chinese

Characters all the way down the window shade, or type some beatnik

Manifesto on the back of small cards to slip into unsuspecting readers’

Pockets: sub rosa poetry. What kind of shamanic powers will you endow

Your poet with? Incense and Latin chant is good, as is a walk in the woods,


Or a picket line, a fife and drum parade; avoid public readings as they cause

An unfortunate increase in hatband size. The chemicals come last, cheap wine,

Margaritas, Gatorade, tea and much, much coffee, particularly if yours

Is a morning poet, trained to greet the day as soon as the birds declare it

Has begun. Add foam and cinnamon or a rim of salt. Add the tears of broken

Love, the sweat of labors performed to pay the rent, the blood of ancestors.

Stir carefully. Such ingredients are flamboyant and may explode.

Voice: Made from Eyes and Heart and Some Legos


I was just reading Ann E. Michael’s blog post about voice and it got me thinking. She quotes Stanley Kunitz, who thought images from childhood were a key part of voice, but I am not completely convinced. I feel like I did not find an outer landscape that matched my inner landscape until I went to college in Vermont. If I were to write with my childhood imagery, there would be a lot more fireflies and dragonflies in my writing, more lilacs and sunflowers, small islands in the center of small lakes, and cloud animals.

Instead, I have a deep love of the passing seasons, the colors of mountains changing as the color of the trees changes, rolling hills, flashing waterfalls, and somewhere a cow or two hanging out. Living in Japan also affected my poetry strongly. The Japanese often represent the seasons in their visual arts and literature. And I think the complex process of translation that is living in a very different culture also changed the way I hear my voice. Also, the moon: there is a famous Japanese poem written while the poet was working in China as a sort of ambassador and missed his wife, something like how we all walk beneath the same moon. I still find that comforting and I think that is why the moon comes up often in my poetry.

One of the interesting things I have learned from studying singing is that I can feel where my voice is in my body. The high parts resonate in the head and the low parts resonate in the chest. It seems to me very important to remember that we write from the body. It is not enough to have a brain and hands.

And of course part of voice/style is always going to be technical, how you put the words together in a way that conveys your personal music. You keep rearranging the parts until it comes together the way you want it.