Where do the poems go?

Trail in a forest; image from Office.com

What’s the next project? The next direction? Where can I go–with poems?
 
I like to work on larger projects or series. I take comfort in knowing what I’m exploring. It gives me a starting point. But when one of those projects feels finished, I need to find another one.
 
Finding the next project shouldn’t be hard, because I make lists and more lists. Subjects that suit my fancy at any given moment. Currently on the list: Chagall, Nijinsky.
 
But does an idea have the power, the pull to go the distance for an entire book or even an entire chapbook?
 
Even with my series tricks, lately I’ve been stalling out, spinning my wheels on the September poems–and then questioning everything I’m working on. Where is that spark?
 
For me, my best poems are the poems I have to write.
 
Into the Rumored Spring was that way–poems saying, “Hey, hey, write me.” Poems waking me up.
 
I’ve been reading Breach, by Nicole Cooley, and I get the feeling that maybe she had to write those poems. They have that kind of urgency.
 
But not every path I start down pulls me that fiercely. Or maybe I’m practicing, trying to learn something new. Even deliberate practice is still practice. Exercises. And can exercises be poems? Sometimes, but they still become isolated as one-offs, not fitting into any bigger picture. (Yes, even though I’m a messy person, I like all my poems to fit in somewhere.)
 
I know writing consistently is important–the practice, the habit. Learning all the time helps me to be ready when I do trip into that next compelling trail to follow. And late this afternoon I realized that I could maybe find that next project by exploring those one-off poems. Maybe one of them is the key to the door to the next adventure.

But for now, I’m going back to the three (!) projects I thought I’d finished–a combination of much self-doubt and wanting poems to work on. I’m writing new poems for those used-to-be-old projects or I’m diving into deep revision on existing poems–trying to keep my voice limber and my skills sharpening. It gives me the comfort of a project and some open space to explore. Which means I never finish anything. And my mom could have told you that.
 
Do you like to work on long projects? How do you discover your projects?
 
Or do like your poems one at a time?
 
Have you worked on a book-length poem? (That might be the best of both worlds, but I haven’t tried to light that fire yet.)
 
And how do you exercise your writing?

6 Replies to “Where do the poems go?”

  1. I can’t speak about poems, but stories find me–in waking reality, in dreams. I sometimes dream fully embodied people, whom I’ve never met! So, maybe try invoking poems in your dreams.

  2. I used to be great at creating projects that had to be written, but I feel I’ve been “between” projects for a little while now. The result has been a shift back towards sculpture and film… which found me pounding out a script that wasn’t any sort of script beyond a long sequence poem(thing). I guess I just keep trying to sketch and exercise, but you’re right- those are always one offs that don’t fit in a larger picture.

    I’d like to tackle a book-length poem though. I’ve been re-reading Adrienne Rich too…. maybe you just gave me my next project….

  3. Oh, Ramona–good for you and the dreams! I’ve tried to invoke poems in my dreams (I’ve tried to invite them)… I guess I’ll just keep trying.

  4. Always glad to help. 🙂 But I like the idea of working/playing in other media as a way to open doors. My problem is that when I try to draw, I get so disappointed by the results that I don’t try again enough to make those results better.

    After I thought of the book-length poem, I thought maybe I should start by writing a poem that’s long enough to submit to Seattle Review.

  5. Poetry and oil painting are so similar, except one is so much more messy. It was so inspiring just the other day I saw a bumper sticker, ” Evolve to solve”. Considering this one enlightening phrase, presented itself like one of the main missing pieces in a very complex puzzle. I’m looking forward to reading your new collection. I’m always seeking inspiration. Thank you Joannie

  6. Karen, thanks for your comment and sharing the “evolve to solve” bumper sticker. It’s amazing how many poets wish they were or want to be painters. And last night I met an artist (multimedia) who writes, as she put it, a poem every few years–when it comes to her. But yes, the oil paints–especially the oil paints–are messy, and then there’s the turpentine.

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