“And as I walk the poem will be turning itself round and round in my head.“
Sometimes a poem spills out in a frenzy of intensity or emotion. Other times I want to write about something in particular and search for the poem. Or I might have a phrase that signals the beginning of something. If I am looking for a poem then I have to deliberately sit down (often at my desk or in bed!) and just write and write around the subject and keep going until something takes hold of me, or till the heat seems to go out of the idea.
I have always kept a diary! And many poems begin in my diary. I sit down to reflect on my day, and before I know it I am heading in a completely different direction. Or I can’t sleep and I write. Having a diary does seem to help clear my head and get going. Most of my poems begin as prose, jottings, scribbles and ‘noodling’ (if that is even a word!) Ferreting around in my head to see what I can find. Page after page with just a few sentences or words, in quite big writing, almost like a child might write. Sometimes on scraps of paper, when I am eating my breakfast. Then I shove the scraps in my dressing gown pocket or in a drawer and come across them, months later. I wish I was more organised. I am often writing in 5 or 6 notebooks, all hidden in different drawers and bags (I am very secretive!)
What is really important to me, once I have got first thoughts on paper, is to walk away. I often walk the dog at this point. And as I walk the poem will be turning itself round and round in my head. I will be repeating lines and playing around and it will take shape as I go. Sometimes a poem falls into place as I walk, orders itself into something that feels right. I have a fixed route round some woods, which takes an hour, and I hurry the final stretch to get the poem on paper. Repeating it over and over, scared I will forget.
I spend a lot of time tinkering.
Cast the poem aside. Come back to it.
I worry about ruining the poem at this stage. Editing all the life out of it. Cutting and cutting till it has lost the original energy and intention. This is when I feel most at sea and might be tempted to show a friend or send it to a magazine, especially if I really believe in the poem. Just to see if anyone else likes it!