On Writer’s Block

Writing more than one poem at a time can have its disadvantages, in the same way that reading someone else’s poetry while writing your own does: they can create writer’s block. A poem is a living being and can be as easily affected by its environment as animals are. Of course, that book of poetry or other poem is rarely the only thing that can create writer’s block, but it certainly fogs up the air.

I am writing a poem right now, with another poet as well (it’s a collaboration) about a dialog between Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein. We continue to play with history vs. allegory, specific vs. universality, character vs. lack thereof, and more. It is an exciting project, but it is this poem that s responsible for fogging the air of another poem.

I am writing another poem that just isn’t working. My initial thought was to attack it head on: write about what I was writing about. But there are so many complications to the approach. For the particular subject that I am writing about, it would be hard to be direct and not sound didactic and/or cheesy. Furthermore, the subject is a bit sensitive and could put any number of people in a difficult spot. The direct approach just won’t work.

Credits: Gary Larson, The Far Side

Credits: Gary Larson, The Far Side

So then I thought of a parallel situation: the environmental living ecology of a particular forest I know about. It could work in a complete allegory, a la Animal Farm — an entire poem as metaphor. At that point, I started writing, but then I had the feeling that there were not enough environmental situations to write about that covered the real subject at hand.

(The subject of the poem seems so important. I really don’t want to mess this one up. This is one I really want to get right. Its importance may be hindering me; it has the potential to be my The Red Wheelbarrow, my Buffalo Bill’s Defunct, my Prufrock. This I say parenthetically…)

One should always avoid writing as long as possible. Take the time to let the idea breathe and live before setting it to words. It’s always a good idea to research. But I have already been chewing this poem in my head for several months, and when it comes to this particular subject, there’s not much to research.

Then there is the influence of the Einstein/Newton poem. Do I write another dialog? Does it rhyme? Is it formal verse? How much detail do I give? I have a hard time seeing the answers to these questions because of the dialog I am co-authoring. And speaking of detail, I was once given some great advice by Kelli Russell Agodon via a tweet: when faced with writer’s block, start with a detail. My allegory version certainly does not do that. But how do I start over, write that detail, if I still have no clear understanding of the structure of the poem?

Perhaps I should wait until the collaboration is over. Perhaps I should pull back from any potential importance. Perhaps I should…

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