Anatomy of a Poem

Really, this should be titled “Anatomy of ONE poem” because each is different, right? Some come in a flash – one bright moment when all one has to do is write what’s been given.  Some flow like a river – and just require editing. 

This poem was more “painful” (or at lease painstaking). The image of the crescent Earth and huge but barely illuminated moon haunted me – not as in a ghost might but as it took up residence in my imagination. I knew, for me it was a metaphor that begged for reflection. 

I typed what became the title – “The Nearly New Moon and the Crescent Earth” at the top of a page and let it sit. Early on, I suspected the poem was nominally “about” my distant adult children (5, not 3) and wrote:

It wasn’t supposed to be this way, five kids
grown, all living so far from home that 

airplanes are a life line, long car drives to see 
the grandkids a necessity. We raised them right,

 I then added:

If gravity is neither a particle or wave

If a falling object drops exactly the same 

on a planet or in an accelerating frame

If my children live so far away then why

What is up with this? There is so much intent in these lines (except one, right?) I had something to say and, as is often the case when a poet has something to say, the result is not poetry. It is rhetoric. But the process did yield “gravity…particle or wave” to the mix – which became the core of the poetic of the poem.

But then intent asserted itself again (and again and again). I added clunky lines, some with even more unintended end rhyme.

       Airports, long car drives to see 
the grand kids a necessity.

Clearly this wasn’t working. I went for a run, wrote some more excruciating lame lines (I / feel so drawn to call my daughter, to tell her / that I am never quite sure if she is the moon / or the sun that illuminates it), read up on the physics of gravity and unified field and string theories. 

My problem:  I knew from experience that I might break through.  But after five or six bouts with the page, I had nothing. I took one more shot and scratched out what became the whole of the first verse and finally trusted the poem rather than my own emotions and reasoning. By the time I wrote the second quatrain I had completely abandoned my prior notion regarding that the poems was “about” and finally had the confidence to excise my prior notes and drafts.

While the rest of the evening of drafting and revising was fraught with self-doubt, I had at least recovered a poetic frame of mind and let the poem wander of its own accord.  I should note that I did not know how the poem would end until I wrote that last line – and while it required some wrangling to fit into the register of the poem, as soon as I wrote it, I knew the poem was done. I did not know if it was a good poem, I just knew that it had found a point of completion and I could get to the fun work of cleaning up the syntax and sonics of the piece before hitting “save” and”send.”

P.S. I was shocked when the poem was accepted.  I really did not think well of it and didn’t even re-read it after I submitted it (my usual habit). Even after receiving the acceptance, I had doubts – but then read it though the eyes of a reader – a reader who had no idea of the lameness of the poems roots.  

I now love it.

4 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Poem”

  1. I didn’t read this post yet, but I did read the final poem in Rattle. I’ve loved many of your poems and highly value your comments on COTW. This poem has been pulling on me and holding me close ever since I read it on Sunday. So much so that I found a way to hunt you down on the web so I could let you know. Thank you, Deb T.


      1. Ah yes, I see that. Very good! It has earned our love.

        Wish I had written that I searched for you, rather than “hunted you down”. Always revising, even after clicking the Reply button. 🤓


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