From conception to creation: a poem is born

A lot of people ask me how I come up with the ideas for my poems. As any creative person knows, there is no exact science for generating ideas and writing the poem. I’ve heard that often ideas are generated when we’re doing tasks that require a lot of concentration but not a lot of deep thought —for example, shaving. I’ve noticed that when I’m walking my dog I often come up with ideas for poems, and in fact have developed the knack for carrying them in my memory until I can get home and write them down.

But sometimes, what makes an idea jump into my head and what makes it link with other, seemingly unrelated concepts is still a mystery to me. In this and my next blog, I would like to share a few of my poems and how they came to be. Frequently, I think it’s the clashing of one idea against another that builds interest and makes the poem work.

One example is the poem “Tierra del Fuego,” from my book The Black Dog and the Road. Here’s the story: My wife and I love to light candles in our bedroom, enjoying the soft light and the warm shadows on the walls. Most mornings and some evenings, we light the candles that sit on our dressers. In one particular instance, we had each lit candles on our respective dressers. The candles looked to me like miniature bonfires, and I started thinking of something I had read as a child about Tierra del Fuego, the cold, inhospitable islands off the tip of South America.

When Ferdinand Magellan first navigated the strait that now bears his name, he saw bonfires on the cliffs of Tierra del Fuego. Hence the name, which means “land of fire” in Spanish. The natives living there had apparently lit the fires to keep warm in the subpolar climate. I thought this might be a good analogy for Trina and I and our candles on the dressers, and this poem was born. Hope you enjoy and come back next time for more.

Tierra del Fuego

When we make love or crave atmosphere
we light candles on the dressers
on her side of the bed and mine

like fires on the cliffsides
of the Straits of Magellan
as the navigator passed by

the cold, remote islands
and the naked natives
huddled by their warming bonfires

tonight we use our dressertop bonfires
not for warmth but for atmosphere
and whether making love or talking
a little soft illumination to help us

navigate the narrow straits

New publications:
“Early morning dark poem” published in Boston Literary Magazine
“Butterfly, here and gone” in shady side review

New acceptances:
Wild Goose Poetry Review— two poems
Disingenuous Twaddle — one poem
The Toucan Online — two poems

Who wouldn’t want to be in a magazine called Disingenuous Twaddle, by the way? Find out all the latest at http://harrycalhoun.net.

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~ by harryc13 on March 19, 2010.

One Response to “From conception to creation: a poem is born”

  1. I loved this. “Tierra del Fuego” is one of my favorites of your poems. Thanks for sharing how you came up with the idea for it.

    Congratulations on “Early morning dark poem” in Boston Literary Magazine. Way to go!

    I’m so happy you started blogging. I can’t wait to read more.

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