Where Poems Begin

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From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

Creativity emerges from a vast, wordless reality that is hidden in plain sight. Radiant, beautiful, benevolent, and infinite, it is the source of all ideas and inspiration. Contrary to popular myth, you do not have to suffer to create. There is a gentle path to creativity, one that does not involve alcohol, drugs, or a life lived in chaos and torment. Creativity: Where Poems Begin is not just about how poets get ideas for poems. It is about how moments of inspiration come to all of us.

. . . .

In 1971, I wrote over a hundred poems, but the price was high. Suffering, grief, loss, sadness, and despair shattered the barrier between my rational consciousness and the emotional, non-rational sources of my creativity. After I put those troubles behind me, I wanted to go on writing poetry, but I didn’t want to go on suffering. I had come to believe there might be another path to the source of my creativity, a gentle path that I would be able to follow without harming myself. Many things encouraged me to believe that such a path existed, so I examined accounts of how other people had contacted their sources of creativity. 

The first writer I looked at was Marcel Proust, a man who seemed to contact his source primarily by accident. I was fascinated with Proust’s involuntary memories; but I wanted to be able to sit down in the morning, access the source of my creativity, and start writing. 

The second group of people I considered were poets who used more aggressive methods. What I found was not the gentle path I was looking for, but what I came to call, for lack of any better name, “the path of intoxication.” So many great poets had lived miserable lives, ultimately drinking themselves to death or committing suicide. It was hard to think of another literary genre with so many victims. 

Why had writing poetry taken such a toll? I suspected I knew at least part of the answer. In college, I had come across Rimbaud’s letter to Paul Demeny. “The poet,” Rimbaud argued, “transforms himself into a visionary by a . . .  systematic derangement of all the senses. He seeks out all forms suffering, and folly . .”

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

Several centuries ago, PG thought of himself as a poet. Perhaps that’s the source of his systemic derangement.

He thought law school choked all the systemic derangement out of him, but maybe there’s still some hanging around.

4 thoughts on “ Where Poems Begin”

    • You would know better than I, K., but my reading suggests contemporary educational philosophy requires frequent and effusive praise, regardless of whether it’s deserved or not.

      I have been and continue to be greatly blessed by the only two elementary school teachers I had in two tiny country schools (Edna Lascelles for grades 1-3 and Betsy Amy Smith for grades 4-6).

      They were very different people, but each one was the best teacher/instructor/professor I ever had.

      I have been able to follow a couple of my classmates from Mrs. Lascelles’ classes.

      One received two masters degrees in special education for the physically handicapped and teaching emotionally and socially disturbed children, then spent 35 years teaching special education in a large public school system, receiving several awards during that period of time.

      Another became a Veterinarian, opened his own clinic and spends some of his free time speaking in local schools and teaching several 4-H Clubs about the care and feeding of domestic and farm animals.

      • Indeed — praise is (pointlessly) ubiquitous (I would have preferred intelligent criticism). And when I say “dim” I don’t mean my actual pre-collegiate teachers who were exemplary in my small private mid-West girls’ school. I was referring to the national faux-reverence of all those school competitions for things like poetry.

        Just to call out a couple of the excellences of my adolescent education, there was Mrs. Eckels in 5th grade (beloved by all her students for a generation) who read to us works like A Wrinkle in Time so that even the slowest could follow it. And all the teachers who let me unlimitedly take all the classes I could schedule and accelerate in Math by taking two years of it at a time from 5th grade on (go through the books, answer all the tests) until I ran out of courses before 9th grade and got to commute to the local university for them.

        The very biggest praise I have to offer was: they didn’t get in my way. We had an informal agreement — they would let me sit quietly in my assigned classes reading all sorts of other things (and answering questions when they called on me, which they learned not to do since I didn’t like implied contradictions in class materials), and I would agree to not disrupt classes with sarcastic remarks. That way I could keep coming to school every day with a backpack full of reading material.

        In one 8th grade class I was quietly reading the latest SciFi in my lap, rapt, when I slowly became aware of the growing silence in the room and looked up. Standing behind me was the outgoing headmistress showing the incoming headmistress around. Mrs. Green, looming over me, casually asked “Good book, Karen?” I swallowed, nodded, and replied, “Good book.” And nothing further was said.

        There’s a lot to be said for that as an educational model for mixed capabilities. Actual targeted guidance would have been even better, but that’s a lot to ask for in a small institution, and at least they didn’t keep me from full immersion in everything they had. And then some.

        [It’s hard to tell a story like this because it reads like a “brag”, but really it’s not. I can vividly remember at 17 looking back and thinking how much smarter I was at 13, and indeed though I went to college in Advanced Math originally, that didn’t survive even my Freshman fall, so I don’t actually have academic achievement to boast about. I was just… odd, in a way that most schools can’t cope with, and lucky where I landed for pre-collegiate education. There’s a theory that adolescence is the last great pruning of excess neurons and, based on my own experience, I can well believe it.]

        • Agreed, K.

          Some teachers have been very important to me. I mentioned two above.

          I must add a third, my college advisor. “Miss Lee” had a PhD, had written one of the standard textbooks and was highly respected by her peers. “Legendary” would not have been an exaggeration.

          However, she preferred to be addressed by Miss, instead of the otherwise universal Doctor.

          Toward the end of my senior year, Miss Lee called me into her office and asked me what I was going to do after graduation.

          I revealed some nice-sounding artistic thoughts that had been floating through my mind and expounded on those for a couple of minutes.

          She interrupted me and issued a forceful order: “David, you need to get a job!”

          I had never been on the bad side of Miss Lee, so her tone of voice definitely caught my attention. She wrote down the address of the student employment office and ordered me to go straight there and tell them I needed to find a job.

          I did so and quickly was hired at a good first job with a large company (which involved wearing a coat and tie), discovered that I enjoyed doing that kind of work, got promoted, got hired at another large company, went to law school and I’ve been constantly employed or self-employed since then.

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