A Poetic Nightmare
Nish on the creative muse
from some inner source where they steeped and brewed
4 a.m. Thanksgiving morning and I should be nestled in my bed like my
husband and daughter after the three of us have wrestled a 25-pound turkey
into the oven an hour ago. But I am driven by the thought that I have
computer time and I should get up and get organized to send my work out
to another magazine.
This middle of the night stirring is not a rare occurrence. Often I lie
in bed composing a poem in my head knowing I should get up and write it
down or it will haunt me for hours on end. If I choose the warmth of the
covers over the cool dark office I can only hope the poem will be there
when I wake.
Desperate to sleep, a mere word from a particular line, which I know is
not quite right, will persist. This single word will sit in the corner
of my brain refusing to leave and make way for another. After some time
when I am no further ahead and sleep finally comes, in a dream a word
will finally escape the daily backlog of my brain.
The next morning usually in the shower, quite unannounced the word I am
searching for suddenly arrives. Some nights are spent agonizing over which
poems should be sent out where, usually following an afternoon spent in
some bookstore. My intentions are always honourable whenever I go into
bookstores, have only a quick look at what is out there. Before I know
it I am totally absorbed in looking through journals, reading over the
latest poetry books published and trying to get a general sense of what
is going on. The five minutes I promised myself has become two hours and
I have neglected to go to the grocery store for the last but most important
ingredient for dinner. Whatıs worse is that now I truly do have only five
minutes to whip across town to pick my kids up from school. Later, thinking
I will spend just a few minutes on-line before bed, I end up researching
into the early morning hours the kinds of material being accepted in different
literary magazines. I end up running and re-running various scenarios
through my head of what poem is appropriate for which journal. Re-arranging
the line-up. Re-counting the poems. Should I send more, send less? Re-distributing
the pecking order and distribution. It is a hellish task at 3 a.m. and
one that would be better done in the morning but a writer does not have
the luxury of when the muse strikes or when the work ends.
When I am writing long poems for which many hours of research are required,
this taskmaster can have me awake at all hours of the night. Re-thinking
an idea, looking up obscure references, wondering about the consistency
of the voice I am using and if the metaphor is carried right through to
the end, are all essential parts of the process. Of course these things
are of concern when I am writing shorter poems. Every word counts especially
here, as there is a shorter time frame to make your point clear and pack
your punch. There are times and they are wonderful occasions, when a poem
will come out complete. I have written poems on scraps of paper while
driving my car, in the dark of my room so as not to wake my husband, on
the back of a cheque book and on a piece of paper towel. These scribbles
have never had a word altered, rising from some inner source where they
steeped and brewed until they poured out perfect complete entities. Then
the moment comes when I know a poem is done. Having struggled for so long
with a piece to finally realize that this is the last line is sheer euphoria.
Having found that final word buried on some obscure page of my thesaurus
brings completion. Not a word or line needs to be changed and I feel I
am the creator of something totally profound. This is it, my baby, and
my creation. The labour of love which has driven me for hours, weeks,
days, carving it into something wholly unique. Then I send it off into
the world, let it live on itıs own merit and wait day after day for a
response, realizing after a time that I can move on to create again.
And I do. At 3 a.m. I have to share, rushing to email another of my babies
to all my friends, family and general acquaintances. There is an urgent
need for a reply and I wait foolishly for their comments till 6 a.m. (with
the three hour time difference back east someone should answer) when I
crawl into bed the piece so engraved into my psyche from reading it over
a million times I am beginning to hate the life it is taking on apart
On those nights when I lie in bed struggling over a word or line I am
so grateful that I donıt write rhyming poetry too often. Not for a lack
of love for it, because done well it can be quite beautiful. But rather
for an appreciation that I do not lie awake at night with rhymes going
through my mind. I think it would send me over the edge trying to fix
meter in my head at 2 a.m.
My brother recently asked me how many poems I have. I asked if he meant
how many poems overall (because then there are well over a hundred if
not more) or if he meant how many I have written that I like. If it is
the latter then the answer is easy, two. Usually I like the most two recent
poems I have completed. Oh there are those that will always be my favourite
Chaucer and Hass, San Francisco 1906, but for the most part at any given
time I only really like two.
I like the poems that let me sleep, for a while anyway.
© Bonnie Nish November 2002
I have created this space
a metaphor for the world to dig through,
the rich dark soil of my verbiage
spilling out into the garden.
Tidy tight lines
of flavourful adjectives
border bold nouns,
thick roots take hold
as I prune unneeded bushes
which flower nonsense.
A window box of analogies
fills each moment
with the fragrance of meanings,
the colours of my thoughts
sprouting into full bloom.
Branches erupt with ideas
perfect yet broken,
fenced yet free,
this tree waits to be sculpted.
< Reply to this Article