Poetry: My “Take-Charge” Genre
By Nancy Baenziger, Ph.D.
At a Hawaii Writers Guild public reading of my poetry in Waimea, moderator Joy Fisher asked me about my particular creative process: how does that work? My answer was that it's like a migraine; it just comes on, unbidden. Seriously, it simply appears, coalesces like a lump of clay on a potter's wheel, spinning as I subsequently work to mold the form that it clearly wants to take.
People who chronically incur migraines are called "migraineurs." For many of them an event starts with an aura, most often a visual phenomenon. Perhaps a better term for a "poet" (or worse, the gendered distinction of "poetess") would be "poeteur!"
For me, the aura analogue is an auditory one, likely reflecting my affinity with the world of music as well as words. The auditory image emerges first, like that tune that keeps "running through the mind" given the unseemly name of "earworm." Could be that's the initial avenue because this latter domain is my constant companion, running in the background as a constantly-shifting palette of genres from Ockeghem's Renaissance polyphony to Count Basie's jazz. Where many folks need constant background music from a radio or other device while carrying out the activities of daily living, I don't generally seek out external inputs unless I want to hear something specific, because I have my own internal playlist running all the time, surfing through an extensive table of contents. The poetic impulse seems a bit like a change of channel.
So, I hear it first in my head, literally being spoken by a disembodied voice that doesn't actually sound like one I hear when my own is on video or audio (the latter always makes me cringe). The process is not one of a creator dictating to a scribe, though, but instead a collaboration. Not just words but phrases emerge together, not necessarily in the poem's order although the poem's beginning usually begins the emergence. It's very much like a musical composition, needing to sound a certain way.
Notably, my poetry is often in the first person, a rock or river or ancient hominin presenting its viewpoint. (Must be my Saami genes coming on line here; my foremothers believed that rocks spoke to them so I keep the tradition ... and talk back.)
An assembling visual image soon follows, that I can see in front of me and must write down by hand on any handy paper, capturing not just the words but the lines laid out on the page in just the right way, before I lose track. My poeteur's life: bounded by a paper trail on all sides.
[Dr. Baenziger lives in Kamuela, Hawaii. She has been a member of Hawaii Writers Guild since January 2018.]