Thursday, February 23, 2012


So, the poem, the fifth of a proposed sequence of ten, is done! --in spite of itself. Let me explain. There was no through-line at all, no momentum. What I had was the dream I'd woken on and its affect on me, thus the initial scribbles. There was a wish to recognize concealment or at least abstain from the superficial hail & heartiness which logic places upon affable humanity; and this could be characterized as "monster" (the persona raised thereon), which figure was consonant with the most obvious aspect of The Midsummer Night's Dream (twisting my peculiar way the enchantment ruling its characters), that being the formal source of the poem(s). It's not giving too much away to offer that the first words of each poem are : "More Midsummer Night's Dream than Dante". Literally, bit by bit, from 31st January, '012 to just the other day, 16th February, the poem was constructed.

Big deal! But as I consider it now, making the poem (making it more than writing it, where, for me, writing holds natural fluency) I experienced certain truths of composition which in my more-or-less spontaneous approach had slipped from consciousness. For example, that one doesnt know where the poem is going or how to get it going ought not disqualify the process. I confess, and against the way I used to teach back in the '70s & '80s, I was ready to scrub the poem several times because it wasnt immediately working! There is a psychology to the "work in progress" : one must relax & have faith... And so I did --a word here or there, a phrase, rejigging the order, but not knowing how it would or if it should coalesce. And then it did --how many days & drafts? --the words & lines came together as a poem! I was amazed!

Because I'm writing a fixed line & syllable type of poem for many years now, and also imagine series or sequences rather than individual poems [see my chapbook, EXILE TRIPTYCH (Vagabond Press, 2011) for most recent published example], the spontaneity is qualified, but even so it better describes me to myself than ever construction could. Which isnt at all to say I dont work & re-work lines, relishing the redrafting, counting, sounding out. I plainly do. I should also note there's always prose on the go (journals, journalesque criticism & review, chronicle, fiction), which means I either work simultaneously on poems & prose, or I let one go entirely for the duration of the prior commitment. Obviously, my experience of prose is free of this stop-go construction : no narrative, no prose. But maybe that's similar to the type of poetry I write --always referring to the theme or working it out. 'On song' & 'on subject' in this process are essentially adjacent.

--17/23, February, 012


Anonymous said...

Great to see emphasis put on the process again, not just finished product; reminds me of a Thomas Bernhard exhibition in Vienna 2000 where his writings, prose & poetry were beautifully displayed with lots & lots of photos, but also hand-written letters & bits of philosophy, such as the one you express here Kris, that the 'making' of the poem is what matters ... CDB

Anonymous said...

Hi, Kris. But I always knew this: something I wrote decades ago:

"Why do writers seem to need to do bad work, which they then have to erase? Why can’t they just write the bits they need first up? Because they need to find out what the book wants them to write, and they don’t know what that is until they get there. The book only exists a piece at a time, and it only begins to realise what it wants to be when it is more or less fully formed, and that is late in the process. The more fully formed the book is, the more clearly it can tell the writer what to write, but this only occurs towards the end of the writing process. Early on, the fragments could be fragments of many different books, and because they are incomplete, they often tell the writer to go in wrong directions – wrong, that is, from the point of view of the finished book."

Swap "poem" for "book".


John Tranter

richard lopez said...


it's wonderful to read of your writing life. it's the process, yes, not necessarily the final thing, that makes the hum. i'm glad to know that you're writing poems because i want to read them!

collectedworks said...

Thanks for your comments C & R... I guess i was saying in roundabout way that working on that particular poem, reminded me of certain things i'd forgotten. Usually my intention is pretty close to the writing, but in this case i only had incoherent intimations. I stayed with it and, as i say, the poem was revealed (that is, was made)! Actually showing my misbegotten things is s/thing else entirely!

collectedworks said...

Thanks John... Appreciate what youve written and even remember it of myself a long time ago! The discussion around intention vs the processes wch enable poem as autonomous object is one ive been around before! It is probably the key discussion concerning practice! As you would have guessed, i exchanged poet's armour for peasant's smock a while ago, traded my wits for apples & cheese & ale, gave up my chair for tree's support & shade! Thanks for stopping by here! All best, k

Anonymous said...

Kris, was that you in the Benny Hill sketch from Way back When, in your peasant smock, under an old Greenwood Tree, sipping from a beaker of Dorset Scrumpy ("The true, the blushful Hippocrene...") and joining in the chorus of "Oi oop and Oi showed 'er the way!"

Warm best wishes from Sinful Sydney,

John Tranter

collectedworks said...

Yes it were me Maister T... Hah! Youve gorne an sprung me!
Btw, saw your poem in The Age this Saturday : Basil's one of me mates, tis the truth! Plenty of room beneath the auld oak!

bernard hemensley said...

i'm a month too late...just found this on your blog with the comments. For me process is just about all of it = whether it be poetry or not. i take my lead from Buddhist teaching (ZEN) = one arrives in each and every moment/with every breath. There is really no destination inasmuch as enlightenment is not in the distance or in the is right here, right now...just WAKE UP ! Of course one still hopes for attention and great rigour. i love Nathalie Goldberg on the writing life = When you sit down to write, you are not trying to write the next great american novel, you are just going through a practice. it is YOUR PRACTICE...and you attend to it. it is your way of being in the world....(apologies for cavalier attitude with this misquote...i just sat down and wrote...nothing great ....Anyway loved your piece KRIS, good flow etc....b.h.

Anonymous said...

always thought once the poem was started the question was now where is this taking me rather than somehow knowing already the finished thing

pete spence