As I write this, my new poetry book, a thousand steps from home, is making its entrance into the world. With apologies to women everywhere (the only ones qualified to truly testify to the extent of the physical travail), bringing this book project from point of inspiration to physical form has felt like going through the birthing process.
The experience of fretting over not just one creative piece but an entire collection of works is like no other literary endeavor. The challenges are many: creative flow, logistics and then crucial decisions at crossroads not anticipated when the project began.
A volume of poetry, much like a musical album, is actually a collection of creative expressions gathered together in one package for the purpose of developing a thematic whole. (At least this is what’s true for me when selecting parts for assembly.) The individual pieces don’t necessarily have a direct relationship to those abutting them (though in some cases they might), but neither are they random choices; they are all constituent parts of a greater whole, throughout which an identifiable theme persists.
Not lost on the exhausted poet in calculating the emotional toll afterward is that many of those constituent parts had been carefully crafted earlier as standalone works; now asked to surrender individual stature for the sake of becoming part of a collective, in which the statement that makes it great defers to one generated by process and not organic inspiration.
Done well, it most definitely is the thematic whole that carries the day. Whether it works is determined by the reader, not the author: Did you see yourself or your life experience reflected in some way as your eyes traveled across the span of pages?
In many of my major creative works, the overarching theme describes a journey, and many of the pieces are drawn from observations the traveling-man persona I develop would have been apt to make in the traversing of a stretch of land from one place to the next. It works that way on the Sighs of the Times CD as well.
Poetry is still the most honest form of written expression, as far as I’m concerned. A poet will knowingly enter into the grueling creative process for reasons other than commercial success, while most other writers calculate the financial return before setting pen to paper. Nor is the motivation limited to creating beautiful word objects, in the hopes of eliciting recognition for praiseworthy craftsmanship. While hope reigns eternal on both of those fronts, the poet is more likely to be moved by an irrepressible need to convey insight having been gained into aspects of the human condition, of injustice perpetrated on some innocent, of hope and longing, and perhaps even a realization that owes its dawning to the requisite number of hours spent in a long night, contemplating the color of despair. Continue reading