On Process: Verse Writing, Part II: Developing an Idea, Trying a New Form

Last Time

In my last post, this series began about my poetry writing process and how it is evolving. Part I focused on my background and motivation; this post represents a key piece of the evolutionary puzzle. The discussion arose out of my attempt to complete an elegy assignment from a recent, free online course hosted by The Daily Post called Writing 201: Poetry.

Feel free to comment or tweet @Carrielt37.


The Verse Writing Process, Part II: Developing an Idea

Inspiration: Getting It Down and Getting Down to It

It turns out that I am also glad that I waited to tackle, for instance, Day Five’s assignment, an elegy related to fog using metaphor, until after hearing of Leonard Nimoy‘s death. Having such a meaningful, interesting, and personally impassioning subject present itself and align with the purpose of a task with a clear and fitting goal has brought new depth to my process.

A new approach to the writing of a substantial, formal poem has proven fruitful as a result, in the sense of ensuring (I hope) quality, cogency, and justice to the subject, in this case, the departed.

The approach constitutes my first real foray into any significant development of ideas and intentions before applying poetic form to the content. Aided by my determination not to stop writing and thinking until I was satisfied that I had said all that needed saying about Leonard Nimoy and Mr. Spock, I developed not just a poem but also the patience to do it with rich intention and to do it Aha_white_on_black_inside_lightbulbwell.

I have yet to learn whether the quality will fulfill its promise or whether this could serve as a formula to perpetuate, but I know with certainty that the experiment signals a new phase in my development as a poet. That realization alone is invigorating and encouraging.

Paradoxically, embracing the idea of development and the need for it has lifted, if just temporarily, the burden of perfectionism, which only ever becomes a block to progress. Patience replaces anxiety, and daily (or every other day’s) attention replaces the impulse do it all in one sitting.

These elements, along with years of experience, in turn have opened the valve to a freer flow of creativity. Faith in my skills and talent bring me to the next station, where I believe that this journey will end in more artful and satisfying results. I am the Little Engine That Could and Can. Although I know it will be difficult, I will do my best to leave judgment of quality and what the results indicate to the reader alone.

Development

With the goals of getting the content right, writing an elegy of some length, and making it a traditional type with rhyming couplets, four-line stanzas and other formal features, here’s what I did to apply The Daily Post‘s fog/elegy/metaphor assignment to create a tribute to Leonard Nimoy. Disclaimer: Remember, I’m not advocating a particular approach or duration of time spent, just sharing my own experimental steps. For the purpose of development, brainstorming through lists played a central role as I focused mainly on ideas first, then form.

  1. I started with a list of words associated with fog that I could write about, which I wrote before Nimoy died.

  2. After I learned of his passing, I made a new list of terms, phrases, ideas, and quotes that I associate with both him and Spock.

  3. Then, I copied the new combination of these two lists to bring together the most relevant concepts and appropriate pairings.

  4. Next, I wrote out lines of concepts and points I knew I wanted to make, seeking the essence of what I feel needs to be said from me personally and as a member of the American populace.

  5. I then researched and read about the Spock “canon” (a little), not having read any Star Trek books myself and harvested quotes on the Imdb.com database from select Star Trek movies.

  6. I drafted a rough, inconsistently metered and lined set of elegiac stanzas toward expressing poetically what would probably be easier said in prose. Patience is key in this phase.

  7. Afterwards, I highlighted the best of the lines, terms, quotes, and concepts to bring myself closer to the crux of what I wanted to focus on.

  8. In between some of these steps, I let things percolate, giving the subject more thought away from my notes. Here comes form. . . .

  9. I started over with a new poem that covered some of the conceptual territory I hadn’t quite hit upon in the first draft, focusing a bit more this time on form and wording.

  10. When I returned to the draft in the next sitting, I transferred it from paper to computer along with all the preceding lists and quotes. In the process, I added more poetic lines.

  11. I printed out the draft alone, without all the notes, and scanned it for lines that were really duds and ideas I decided against or facts that I mistook.

  12. I highlighted parts of the poem that I liked best, that felt most right, and also scanned the lines for meter and rhythm, isolating the parts that flowed more naturally than others.

  13. Upon reviewing the highlighted parts, I added lines for concepts I felt needed more, better, or different coverage or any coverage at all.

  14. With a few semi-intentional gaps between writing/assessing days for my poem, I began to lose some momentum, feeling inadequate to the task of writing an elegy about such a storied public figure and the American icon he created.

  15. Then, I pressed on to soul-search, seeking a way through.

The poem remained a work in progress when I first shared this post.


Phew! Lots of steps, right? So what do you think? Consider the above process and these questions in light of your own work:

? Do the above steps seem excessive or seem to constitute perfectionism? 

? Which steps seem most worthwhile? Which ones seem unnecessary? (Keep in mind that the elegy has a particular form with a set of guidelines to follow.) Perhaps some steps work well for some types of poems but not others?

? What steps do you go through and find most fruitful in writing poetry?

? What insights have you learned from other poets’ processes?


Want to know how it turned out? Me too! Tune in for the next post in the series, On Process: Verse Writing, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft, which will address the results of the development and drafting process, providing insight into the schedule I followed. Plus, I’ll discuss the journey of revision and reflect upon each phase undertaken so far.

If you’re just joining me and would like to read about how this project began, go to On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation.

I welcome comments and tweets @Carrielt37.