Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2019  Vol. 18 No. 1
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The Image Is a Spiral

Some days, the poem comes easier than others, but most mornings (when I write best) I open my notebook and try to find a certain rhythm in the language that can open up an image. It is this work, this routine of writing or attempting to write, that is essential to me. In one of Larry Levis’s poems, he describes a figure skater from Bruegel’s painting “Hunters in the Snow,” how the figure is always falling, how the painter has “destroyed” time. I think this is what I think I mean when I say I want to open an image up, to spiral it outward from a center and, through extension, better see the world. In short, I want to use the image to investigate. It can be arduous and take months or years to figure out what an image wants to do. These days, though I’m writing every day, I think I might be lucky to find a poem every three months or so. In 2019 I wrote less than a half-dozen poems. I spent a few hours each day writing.

While the image is where I begin, I seem to always return to narrative, a condition of growing up in the South perhaps, and am always asking how images develop together, both synoptically and through tension. A kind of obsession with what an image might do tends to occur once I’ve got one down on the page. I catalog these images in my notebook all the time. For instance, recently driving home I looked out at how the daylight was hitting a little river along the road and wrote down a line about daylight being carried down through the rhododendron. I don’t know if that line will be anything, but I know this image is ripe to show up at some point in the future and that I’d forget the spontaneous music that can occur if I didn’t write it down immediately.

Ultimately, I think my process has come to be a kind of bargain I’ve made with myself. I say I’ll show up and do the work and, in doing so, the poem will agree to meet me every once in a while. Patience can be difficult but most mornings I am kept company by four or five birds I can now identify by call, and I have learned to recognize the trees in the little patch of forest out my window, and just these examples have made me more aware of the world around me. It seems to come into focus and then it’s up to me to place a little ink down and follow.  

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