The Birth of a Poem


The time interval after conception and before birth is called the gestation period. In human obstetrics that is fetal age plus two weeks. I don’t fully understand the two weeks, but a poem has a gestation period too. Mine begins when a word or sentence makes its way into my head-space. Then, it rambles down my mind’s winding corridor and ends in this small notebook. I have three poems sharing space in that womb of creativity.

Some pieces are written out onto a page.

Some scribbled on plain white note cards.

Some arrive inside this rubber-banded book on scraps of paper or napkins.

I am not a poet (although that has never stopped me from trying).  I fancy myself more a collector of thoughts. The world often assaults me with its noise, but at other times it caresses me with a sentence or two so filled with truth that I am stopped dead in my tracks. Occasionally an idea comes in a dream and if I haven’t written it down, it haunts me all day. A faceless, silent taunting.

I’ve been just devouring Devotions, the latest compilation of poetry by Mary Oliver. Her words seem to always make a perfect sense. I always wonder about the process of others. I imagine that for these great poets the words are effortless and fall onto the page like they have always belonged. There. Together. And we read them while shaking our heads in agreement, thinking “yes, of course” …” But then I read some more of Mary Oliver and realize it doesn’t happen like that at all.

MY words are saying “really ??”


Creative work is hard. You’d have to be an artist of some kind to understand the truth of that. You can’t just schedule a time and expect the creative juices to be flowing. ( Well, I can’t. ) I need spontaneity like I need air. And when the inspiration hits, I need the freedom to follow it to its natural conclusion. Sometimes it’s as if my mind has gone speeding off into the void. Sometimes I make it safely through that tunnel and sometimes I crash and burn. Those fiery expressions are like “the one that got away”. Or the perfect sentence that vaporizes right before your sleepy eyes as you wake from a dream. I can almost see you now … shaking your head in agreement. “Yes, creative work is not for sissies and definitely not for the lazy. ”

I am learning to be an observer in my own life and write from that place. It’s messy work, trying so hard to not try so hard. I have many crumpled sheets in that wastebasket from the times I exhaust myself trying to say a simple thing. When I try to write a poem it really helps me to learn about my own need for word economy. If my first draft is 50 words, my final draft will be half that. I’m actually enjoying the sharp, bone-jarring turns of this learning curve.

Here is a short poem. I trust that in time they will get better, but for now, here is what I know and this is who I am.


The Difference
were the hummingbirds
drinking honeysuckle nectar
in the warm air.
The sky
a perfect Gentian blue.
was the crows
flocking to barren trees
gathering with others in bracing cold.
The sky
rinsed of color
after dusk.
figs are falling
from branches
while rosemary
flowers and thrives.

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