01 August 2006

Poem Development - Part I: Research, It's Not Just For Scientists Anymore.

Earlier I talked about where I got my ideas. This time I am going to show how my basic idea is developed into a poem.

I was thinking on my military background and the fact that my father and grandfather also served in the military- same branch, same specialty. So there is a line of Army engineers in my family. I wanted to write a poem about that. My first step is to decide what the poem is to be about. Is it about me? Is it about my father or grandfather? Is it about my family in general? Engineering? Since poetry is a very Me-centric occupation, I decided to write it in the first person, as a commentary.

The next thing I look for is any underlying themes I want to develop. Is there something I want to say about the military, engineering, my family, or all three? I decided the thrust of my poem was my relationship with the other engineers in the family. What was the one thing we all had in common besides engineering? Bridges.

I wrote the first draft, trying to get the essentials of what I had to say down. A little while later I went back to the poem and looked at it, rearranged the order of the words. The basics were there, but it was dull as dishwater. I did some research on World War Two and which bridges were blown up by invading American forces. Quite a few of them it turns out. I had to dig into my memory of where my grandfather had been at least during part of WWII. I remembered Cologne, and the Rhine. So I read about different Allied exercises concentrated around the Rhine river. There were a lot of them, too. I found the right years, read some more. Now I had a picture of what went on during my grandfather's time during WWII as an engineer.

Next I turned to post war information. My father served during the Korean War, but he was stationed in Germany. I remembered his unit, and looked up information on them and on the types of bridges that were being built at that time.

Last, I examined my own experiences. I had to hit the Internet to find the precise type of mobile bridge we used during my service – hey, it's been a while… Once I had all the above information, I pulled the poem back out and began to rework it. I knew I wanted a lead in, then a sequence from grandfather to father to me, so that is how I structured it. I also knew I wanted a conclusion that played on engineering terminology, but could have dual meaning. I crafted the poem, and put it aside again.

The next day I pulled the poem out and looked at it with fresh eyes. I smoothed the language, attended to grammar and punctuation, flipped a thought around for emphasis, then called it done. For now. I pondered my title. Titles are very important to me, and I do not take them lightly (A subject for a later essay perhaps). I left the one word title as is for now. If I come upon a phrase or idea that better fits what I am trying to express in the poem, I will change it. The poem needs to sit a while. I need time away to gain fresh perspective, and to let the research I did percolate in case some other idea rises to the surface.

Next - Poem Development - Part II: Borrowing and Stealing


KC Heath said...

Mmm, good information here, on how you researched your poem. I'd like to add a trick I use: key words. When I'm writing poetry, first I write down thoughts, then I write down thought key-words and look each up in the thesaris so when I'm composing the poem I have an arsenal of the right words in front of me.


Constance said...


Aresnal is a good term. I'm a research junkie- hence the slow go on the novel at times. I realize it's not fair to not publish the poem so you can see the steps, but it's on hold for simmering time right now. I may do another one from initial idea through the steps, complete with revisions.

Probably a good approach to the novel writing also - key words to include in a scene to get the point across.