The answers aren’t out there. It’s inside you, Babe.
Last night in our local critique group one of our writers read a poem about descending into a coal mine. The experience affected him profoundly. He’d whipped out a fine piece in two hours the night before. His poem was filled with rhythm and recurrence plus clear description of that underground world and his emotional response. I mapped the poem’s structure as it journeyed from innocent curiosity, degrees of fear, and resolution. The last bit of the poem departed from the pattern of “You could [be surprised, worry, rejoice in the beauty etc.] Did that departure work? Was it okay? Should he change it?
“That’s not mine to say,” I replied. “But, if it were my question, here’s how I would set about answering it.” I suggested that he read the poem out loud in a quiet place. Did he like the shift in technique and rhythm between the body of the poem and the end? Did the end further the poem’s meaning? How many other endings could he write to have some choices? What did the poem want?
His poem, simple and direct, reached out to the big questions of mortality, vastness, confinement, and their reverberation in his soul. Was there more? Damn straight. I suggested that he revisit his poem to pinpoint what had moved him down there in the mine. Reframe each stanza as a question, and write more about each one. “You have a lot more to say about this. Find out if there’s a cycle of poems here. Maybe you have a chapbook.”
Rainer Maria Rilke’s most famous quote is from “Letters to a Young Poet.”
Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. (Letter Four, 16 July 1903)
Less well known is the epitaph Rilke wrote to be inscribed on his gravestone: The work of the eyes is done. Go now and do the heart-work on the images imprisoned within you.
If we can frame the questions of our heart work, then these imprisoned images will fly to freedom on the page. This is our work to do. It’s not for others to say.
Pose questions about practical creativity; give ideas for future cycle themes; and join in the dialog. See the Creative Catalyst archive at http://bit.ly/9z1BQv. Learn more about our audio book “Sightlines: A Family Love Story in Poetry and Music”at http://bit.ly/aZVd1e. Become a Riehlife Villager at http://www.riehlife.com