I am holed up in the kitchen at the makeshift windowseat table nearest the stove, monitoring a tiny pot of cranberries, citrus, and clove. These cranberries are even now popping their little heads, with a pud-pud, and becoming one with the pot's round universe.
Our new rescue dog must smell this. Though she is so shy that she'd usually rather shove her large body into the semi-hidden spot between the couch and the coffee table, today instead she is stationed outside the kitchen door, on a small pad we put there, as close to the alley-kitchen as we'll let her wait. Cranberries are an ingredient in one of her favorite treats.
To say this house smells like family, or a hopeful complexity, would be literally correct. But that belongs to my thoughts of tomorrow. To me, right now, it's the sound I'm after. Pud pud--as the cranberries give way to the heat and pressure I've assembled around them.
Something about this sound reminds me of the imagery-making sensation of my childhood, when I knew I was "catching a poem" as soon as I could envision a secondary world hovering by simile or metaphor over the one I was living and standing in. Those little tadpole poems had a single idea to animate them. And that was plenty. I feel oddly sentimental for their simple sense of plenty.
To my child’s brain, these cranberries are “red popcorn”...Regular (corn-kernels) are the popcorn of air and these cranberries are the popcorn of water, or red mud, or the underworld. I could say they sound more like fish bubbles than drums. Or that they sound like rain. Or risk taking. And there would be the Poem of That.
Tony Hoagland, in Real Sofistikation: Essays on Poetry and Craft describes a three-pronged taxonomy of poetry (by which Hoagland means, there are three main categories into which one could sort the driving energy of any given poem): image (“red popcorn”), diction (a kind of thought-applied, processed image, such as “red popcorn of the underworld” or “sound of risk”), and rhetoric (in which an argument is sustained). Poems each seem energized by one of these three primary drives: to embody image, to embody diction, to embody rhetoric.I’m wondering today whether I could map that taxonomy onto the originating impetus: the drive that makes the poet make the poem.
How do you know you have a poem? (Or I really mean, how does any writer know it’s time to pick up a pen, or race to the keys? What thought or sound or idea leads us to the zero-draft, the raw-recording of the coming-on of an energy that will, with work, become the poem?)
In childhood, for me, it was so simple: I “caught” an image. I had a poem. For several happy, simple years that poem-process lasted.
Then I dived deep into the riptides of adolescence, the emotional vibrancy of my early twenties. I came to “recognize” that start moment for a poem by a kind of sound and language--a single line that might lodge in my head, attached to the half-shape of an idea of some sort, or a sensory-tantalized remembering. I could “see” the poem--its discreet shape in the distance, and following that sound, that one line, I’d move toward it, hoping to sneak up on it before it left me.
One of my friends says (actually, this is from the poet, Elizabeth Knapp) that she first feels a poem in her hands. A kind of tingling. At least, that was true when she was in her twenties--an emotive time in my experience for the poetry project.
Is that emotive sense, then, similar to Hoagland’s diction (a kind of emoted-through image, a processed simplicity). And if so, is this part of Hoagland's typology also a form of impetus for the making of a poem? A point or type of origin?
By my thirties, the origin-place had changed again. Moving toward rhetoric, an argument would arrange itself metrically along a line, or I’d feel the ache of two lines rhymed together, with a few yummy multisyllabic words placed just right inside the meter. It felt so good, so kinesthetically good, to think and “argue” that way. Sure images would come to me, and so would “good lines” that weren’t metrical at all. But the beginning was in an effort to self-reveal--the origin's hope was that possibly a bit of eloquence, or aimed-after eloquence would redeem that process.
This is all too subjective. Too in the kitchen, smelling cranberries.
The topic, though, isn’t mine. It’s old. It’s complex. It’s hopeful. It’s yours.
How do you know you’ve just “met” the thought, or sound, or texture, or taste, or argument, or rhyme, or imagined world that will “start” your poem? What trip do you take to that underworld where cranberries turn their whole bodies into incense, where the red mud becomes a dinner dish.
Becomes childhood again. Becomes tomorrow.