Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2019  Vol. 18 No. 1
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Ritual and Repetition

My poems often begin with a turn of phrase that gets stuck in my head, a bit like a verbal earworm. When I was younger, these would be the endings of poems; now they are more often opening lines, or titles. I’ll jot this language down and build the poem from there. Sometimes this process takes weeks, months, or even years. Other times a fully formed poem will just stroll onto the page.

I don’t rely on flashes of inspiration. I’ve found that writing, like anything fundamentally mysterious, feeds off ritual and repetition. I write in the mornings, in a small, unlined notebook, in pencil. I’ll read some poetry, then look over my drafts, then write anew. I have dozens of these notebooks, and I frequently mine them for material. They are by far my most valuable possessions.

Reading is also fundamental to my work. I’ll become obsessed with one poet, or sometimes even one poem, for months. But I’m also a bit of a magpie, and I like to read everything everywhere. A good novel, an essay, or a news article can do the trick. I wrote one of my better poems after coming across a bizarre profile in the British tabloid The Sun.

I write this account as if I have any real control over my writing, which I’m not entirely sure I do. The longer I work on a poem, the more it seems to take on a life of its own, with its own needs, rhythms, and proclivities. It’s my work as a poet to listen. I don’t write in service of any one idea: I write in service of my poems.  

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