Get moving–through your poems

Machines at the gymWe’re moving into the New Year and I’ve noticed more people are moving at the gym. It’s always a little more crowded as people tackle their resolutions or just want to shed some of the holiday leftovers.

But that gets me thinking about movement—in a poem. Sure, a poem can be about one thing. It might be about one thing on the surface and then add complexity in layers, revealed in careful rereading. Or a poem might move from its initial image and take you somewhere you never expected–without getting lost, without losing you. What Richard Hugo referred to as the triggering town. The town triggers the poem, but the poem isn’t about the town. It travels. Into the past. Into the future, or any unknown—what the waitress at the diner last Thursday was thinking about as she restocked the salt shakers and what that made you think of from the snow that fell after Christmas in 1996.

It might leap. It might meander.

Sometimes I find it really hard to move away from that first trigger, to take that first scary leap into thin air and trust I’ll land somewhere. Trust that if it isn’t the right place, I’ll try again. It’s so easy to stay with that initial image, milk it for what it’s worth—and then—what?

As with any writing problem to solve, I turn to reading. For example, Billy Collins moves so elegantly through his poems. Take Osso Bucco (be sure to click through to the second page). See how it moves from

I love the sound of the bone breaking against the plate
and the fortress-like look of it
lying before me in a moat of risotto

to the wife talking on the phone to the man climbing the hillside and then into the night, and now you’re

below the shale and layered rock
beneath the strata of hunger and pleasure,
into the broken bones of the earth itself,
into the marrow of the only place we know .

Or the way Roberta Spear moves from her son and the man in the moon to Akhmatova in “In the Moon” and the way she moves through her poem “A Nest for Everyone.”

How do you move away from that initial image? Who are your favorite poets who move through their poems and take you somewhere new?

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