Writing a poem is always a sort of backwards thing for me. I tend to do it first as a layout of generally what I want in it, a really rough outline of the poem, like the gesture sketch of a character before you actually start to put any details in. After that, the drawing metaphor stops working, unless you draw an eye and then a finger and then a nose and then decide that the person doesn’t actually need fingers, and that you like the drawing with just one eye, which most artists don’t generally do when they’re drawing people. At any rate, poems are less straightforward than a drawing, at least for me. They always tend to have hidden lines that I have to write seven or eight times before I get them quite right, and there’s always that weird feeling at the beginning and the end, when you’re not sure if that’s really where the piece starts or where it ends. Poetry is less about the artist themselves and more about organizing twenty-six letters in a way that they need to be.
The actual process of writing a nice piece that you can turn in to some publishing companies or, infinitely more frightening, your creative writing teacher, is a convoluted process for me. I sketch it out, and then I detail it in. The original draft for a lot of poems is very loose and raw, and often makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. This actually used to be really discouraging for me, since when reading you only get to see the nice, polished, finished work and sometimes I forget that a lot of editing went into that final product, and the author didn’t just miraculously spit it out and show it to the world. I’ve since had it drilled into me that editing is a) vital, and a part of every piece, and b) one of the things I enjoy most in writing. It’s always so much harder to get out that first bit of what you want to say. Once that’s all out, you can take away words and phrases that don’t make sense, and add words and phrases that are appropriate.
There’s also that phrase in writing – kill your darlings. Take out bits of a poem you love, because it doesn’t have a place or doesn’t fit or is simply unnecessary. That’s the hardest part of editing. I have a couple documents that are just bits and pieces of old writing that I loved and had to take out. They’re recyclable – you can use them in other stories if they fit. It’s always a fun exercise when I write a poem based around the fragment of another poem I really liked.
Writing a poem is an inside-out process for me, because my brain thinks in weird, wiggly, jumpy patterns. Everyone thinks differently, and everyone writes poetry differently. Don’t be afraid of your poems, and don’t berate yourself because you have a different process than so-and-so. Just write your own way, in your own time, and hopefully find something in it you love.
Isi Vasquez, class of 2019