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Friday, August 27, 2004

My Creative Process

The East - Illumination
As Madeleine L'Engle suggests in Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, I try to live my life focused on creativity. L'Engle says that "[art] means attempting to share the meaning of my life, what gives it, for me, its tragedy and its glory" (16). This is what I try to do with my poetry and stories. My goal every day is to find some small amount of time to be more focused on the things around me. This can be as simple as standing at a window observing a stranger walk down the street or as structured as viewing a concert or gallery of artwork. It is from these times that most of my inspiration comes. "Slowing down enough and focusing enough really to notice and study your surroundings is invariably a valuable investment of your time and effort" (Schaefer 42). Sometimes, however, an idea will force itself into my head at the most difficult times. Regardless of where the inspiration comes from this is the beginning of the creative process.
I've found inspiration to be something that I have very little control over. I can foster it by slowing down and becoming focused on the things around me. But ultimately it is a product of some subconscious process, some spiritual process.
No one can say, beyond such particular examples, where inspiration comes from. Poets continue to look for it in the old places--they read, they travel, they write down their dreams, write without thinking, go for walks, give themselves up to passions of love and loss, listen for voices. (Koch 82)I decided to give you an example of my creative process. For this example I was sitting in class trying to be more focused on the things around me.
I notice the woman in front of me has her pink highlighter standing, not lying on the table. she is drinking Mountain Dew and talking with the people around her about whether or not she is creative.
This is the creative spark that made me decide to write a poem about this woman. One thing I've learned about this process is that it isn't a linear event. You often have to go back and find inspiration again.
The odd thing is that, for poets, the lines that may be the product of extreme feelings, if the are '"good poetry," may be highly esteemed by the ordinary consciousness and an attempt be made, even, to re-enter the state that produced them in order to write more--or to revise those one has written. (Koch 82)This is one reason that I like poetry. Poems tend to be shorter so having to reenter the moment of inspiration can usually be avoided. From working on my short stories I know that this can be a difficult thing.
The South - Details
The details of writing poetry are easy to describe. While I'm at the point of inspiration I need to make mental or physical notes about the scene and the ideas represented in it. The first decision is whether or not to make the creative piece a poem or short story. This decision is usually decided by the inspiration. In this case there wasn't a lengthy story but there were some powerful images to use; so I decided to write a poem. The list step is a very important step but I don't usually make a physical list as I've done here.
blue bell bottoms, black sweat shirt, dark brown hair with light (almost blonde) highlights, hair pulled back into a mini bun with pieces sticking out all over, dangly beaded Hmong earrings, salt and pepper socks, black low leather shoes, black glass case, Mountain Dew, pink highlighter, notebook, thick off white button up wool sweater hanging on chair, slumped over table, sigh over head for long distance at 1 cent

I then need to decide how these images and the ideas I have about them will be put together and manifest themselves in the poem.
Her pink highlighter
stands at attention
next to general
Mountain Dew in
his field greens.
She talks about
ROTC and her
creativity. She wonders
if she has the later
as she leans over her notebook
and talks to her
friends about a challenge
she had to face in Rot C.
They fall into
her world and are
hanging over The
Wall with her
as the drill sergeant
yells at her to
"jump or he will
push her!"
She laughs and
hunches over her
paper again and
her dark brown hair
with blonde highlights
bounces as much
as the earth
toned hair scrunchie
will let it.
She reaches for
the highlighter and
pulls the cap off
to mark something
important on her
paper. The beaded
earrings, of Hmong
design, swing in
sweet satisfaction.
The West - Reflection, Recollection
Reflection, recollection and revision come next. I find that it takes the distance of time to help me rethink a poem. I need to be away from it for a while. This helps because I can then be inspired by my own poetry so I can revise it. "Revising is conscious in intention, but in order to be effective it needs inspiration as much as any other stage of writing" (Koch 104). This stage overlaps with the details stage because I really need to focus on the poem and how it is working or failing to work. This is the revised poem.
Captain pink highlighter
stands at attention
next to general
Mountain Dew in
his field greens.
She talks about
ROTC and her
creativity. She wonders
if she has the later
as she leans over her notebook
and talks to her
friends about a challenge
she had to face in Rot C.
We all fall into
her world and are
hanging over The
Wall with her
as the drill sergeant
yells at her to
"jump, private, or I will
push you!"
She laughs and
hunches over her
paper again and
her dark brown hair,
flashing blonde highlights
in the fluorescent light
bounces as much
as the earth
toned hair scrunchie
will let it.
She reaches for
the highlighter and
pulls the cap off
to mark something
important on her
paper. The beaded
earrings, of Hmong
design, swing in
sweet satisfaction.
As you can see I didn't change much I'm happy with the images I've created. Most of the changes I made were simply done to let the poem make more sense. I try to make sure that my poetry avoids the difficulties that are associated with being to heavy handed. "The difficulties are avoiding preachiness, prosiness, and mere intellectuality, and somehow being able to be original while conforming to an idea" (Koch 97). I don't believe that this poem is too severe. The images are political, and poetic without being preachy.
The North - Cosmic Connection, Order
I feel that this poem is successful in creating a scene that, as L'Engle describes it, makes some order out of the chaos of the world. I usually leave the title for last. This is done for a very specific reason. We've talked a lot in my poetry writing class about how titles affect the reader's experience of the poem. The title sets the frame of mind for the reader of the poem and in this respect it should hint at the greater meaning of the poem. For this poem I am thinking of titling it "She Told a Story" or "Private Woman." It is easy to see how both of these title work with the poem but they would emphasize different aspects of the poem.
The Looking Within Place
I started writing poetry early in my life. Playing with words was fun. I have notebooks that go back to my fourth and fifth grade years in which I wrote simple poems. These were usually acrostic poems that used my name or a friend's name. It wasn't until my senior year in high school that I realized the power of poetry. I had a wonderful teacher that year, Mrs. Gotzion. She not only encouraged me to write my own poetry she showed me the glory of poets from the past. "Speaking [the language of poetry], I was instantly aloft, in a realm of thought and feeling that connected me to the other speakers of that language, the mighty dead" (Koch 74). I've never really admitted it because I always believed that it was laughable, but I decided to be an English major (really to teach English) because of what this teacher did for me. I need to find her and thank her some day.
Works Cited:

Koch, Kenneth. Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry. New York: Touchstone, 1998.
L'Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. New York: North Point Press, 2000.
Schaefer, Candace and Diamond, Rick. The Creative Writing Guide. New York: Longman, 1998.
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