Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1
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Perpetual Beginning

I almost never remember drafting poems, and when they are good, I almost never remember writing them. As I learn more about process, the more paralyzing writing becomes. Still, I tap the side of my head and feel sounds trickle out from time to time. Over time, I tape images to my wall. In silent periods, I slide old drafts from the drawer, and though I find comfort in them being there, they are also the most difficult to continue.

I wrote “The New Poem” and “Existence” at separate times in my life. “The New Poem” began in North Carolina seven years ago, during which I’d sit out on my porch at night and watch undergraduates walk by. I’d see the same old dog roll in the grass while his owner smoked out of the upstairs window. “Existence” began at the end of my time in California. I remember the months after fire season, waking up in the middle of the night without coughing. I’d follow my dog out to the yard when I couldn’t sleep and sit under a tree.

The tenacity of early writing is often riddled with sounds for the ear and little for the mind. The poems I am most grateful for are poems that have the earmarks of innocence, poems in which I inhabit that original space where I first wrote fiction in my childhood upstairs bedroom, sitting in a broken chair with the window wide open. I find myself wondering why I continue, but it’s in finishing flawed poems, finding myself in language—the most flammable material—that keeps me present.

Writing became the way in which I interact with the world. I’ve learned that if I lean my head down, I can see new things in the old: the poem negotiating a trajectory that I have not resolved in my own life, every image imbued with the experience of living, in being human. This isn’t to say that time equates success, necessarily, but how we form relationships to our own work helps us better understand the silvery nonsensical cadence we know as intuition. Sometimes discovering a poem’s limitation is victory. Sometimes the poem rocks down the tracks, but moves nonetheless. In the words of one of my most important teachers, “the work has to get done.”  

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