Or How to Wring MORE Work from a Scattered Mind
As a way of shaking up my poetic melancholy I turned to an unusual method. I read another poet as inspiration. So what, you're thinking. We all feed the muse with literary encouragements. This time I decided to take things a bit further, and experiment. I chose a book of poems and read them, one at a time. After reading each one I wrote a response–of sorts. I allowed myself to key off of a single word, a phrase, an idea, or some other trigger from the poem. Every poem. I didn't let myself proceed until I wrote a poem in response to the read poem.
Some were easy, my mind flashed on a word or idea and the poem tumbled out, eager. Others were harder and had to be coaxed from the shadows. I reread the poem, focused in on the emotion or mood it evoked in me, and created from there. In a few of the poems you can see the influence from the poet I read, but in most cases, it's me and my style, something I wasn't sure would ever develop, even though I'd seen inklings of it the past year.
The results of the experiment? I wrote 36 poems in 8 days. Out of those thirty-six the vast majority are worthy of further development. A good portion theme together nicely. The other advantage to my test—whether intentionally (through following the read poet's body of work) or subconsciously, an overarching theme emerged. Themes have reared their Cerebusian heads in other poems but never consistently until now. Many of the poems fit the theme, overtly or covertly. The ones that don't are being developed as stand alone poems. It's also a relief to know I can write with a theme in mind and let the poems emerge from the mist, confident they will maintain the overtones I want. I only found one poem I dislike, in that it's trying too hard to bend itself into something it's not. It may be salvageable, or it may become a victim of the editorial sword.
The nice thing is feeling secure in my ability to produce a coherent body of work from a self-imposed exercise. I've been editing and honing for the past two weeks just to get the "Call and Response" poems to a resting place, where they will sit undisturbed and ferment, turning either into a raw wine, or some moldy green science experiment gone horribly awry. I've read a few at my writer's group, and the response tells me the overall feeling I was going for is there. I just need to mold them into a finished product without losing the raw emotion that caused me to write them in the first place.