How I Write Poetry

Courtesy of Mohammad Bahmanyar

Dawn has just broken in New Zealand—and here, the tui song is what greets you, though here is just one place out of the many we have lived in in the last twelve months. If life were normal at the moment, it would be dawn in New Hampshire that would have woken us.

I’m always the first to wake up. My wife, the prolific sleeper, dozes until eight (though she likes to think that seven thirty is more accurate). The morning routine is the same, really, no matter where in the world we are. Wash first and coffee second. Breakfast table conversation is non-existent until the hot coffee has done its job. Back home, I would be the breakfast chef, and have lunch packed and ready before watching my wife depart for work and settling myself into a day at home.

At some point in the last two years I became a full time writer. It was more by accident—a by-product of falling in love, you could say—rather than a purposeful fruition; a temporary luxury, perhaps, as the life of being a full time writer is a rare one, but one that has shaped the way in which I compose my art.

I’ve written poetry since I was young. Initially it was the not-so-good kind of poetry that hormonally charged teenagers scratch out between panging bouts of broken-heartedness or love. I would write about whatever I believed was important to me, scribbling in journals or on the back of books, or whatever came to hand. As I matured artistically, the number of times I wrote diminished. After finishing my education, I headed out into the world. But always, there was this longing to be a poet that travelled with me wherever I went.

Fast-forward to the present day and a few unfulfilling jobs later, I’m now that poet. Having earned my masters in poetry and set up my own independent publishing company, I formally gave the middle finger to corporate life in 2017. It was then that I met my future wife and then that I began to write the way I do.

So back to a typical day for me in the US. The wife is at work and I’m at home. The news scrolls in the background continually, I’m onto my fourth cup of coffee, and the cats are running amok. I have just finished reading a collection by Steven F. White and am contemplating where to put the new stack of books I shouldn’t have bought but have. My goal is to write a beginning draft of the final poem in my new collection, another one on top of the two other unpublished collections I’ve written. Being a full-time at home writer (and husband), I have a prolific output rate. My philosophy is if I have all day to write then write I will. The advice of my mentor at university of “practice your god-damn art every god-damn chance you get” has stuck well, and so here at the cusp of yet another finished manuscript I sit. I have four more rejection letters received and ready to file (you stop caring about rejections pretty quick), and I have no idea how to start what I need to write.

There are days when inspiration seems easy—and those days are few and very far between. A fine white snow is lacing past the window—and a bottle of opened red wine sits calling until the hour hand ticks past twelve. I give up my mental struggle for now, throw on my shoes, and decide to stroll out into the cold to watch freezing pancakes of ice float down the river outside our home. The moment I’m outside I regret it. The wind is biting cold, the ice moves languishingly slowly, and the daylight struggles to filter through the grey, giving the entire landscape a surreal purgatory like ambience—somehow our backyard has donned the visage of a halfway house between life and death.

I turn to go inside and notice a lone leaf frozen mid-way in between the tree from which it fell and the ground for which it’s destined. A spider web of ice has caught it mid-fall, adding to the palpable sense of being stuck in another world.

Back inside I begin preparing dinner. The news still scrolls and I have flipped on some blues to accompany the red wine—and then it hits me—one line, one sentence, the opening of a poem. I drop everything and run to write it down, and when I do, I keep writing. I keep typing verse after verse, my thoughts on the frozen leaf, the state of decay, of being kept where one should not be kept, of the cold, of the lacing snow, of Steven F. White. It all goes down on the page, and then I stop. It’s gone—both the thought and the drive vanish into the ether of my brain.

I finish preparing the dinner, tidy up, and greet the wife on her return. The house is clean, the cats are fed, and dinner is eaten. Later in the evening when my wife has turned in, I turn back to what I wrote. Reading the draft, I re-work it, edit it, and for the next three hours take what was a brain-dump and mould it into a first draft. Over the next week I’ll re-edit it many times and then count another manuscript finished.

Poets are today the fringe writers of literature, but they haven’t always been so rare. There were centuries when poets were the leaders of the written and spoken word. Like any change, however, there are highs and lows, and there have been times, like now, when poetry has receded to more estranged parts of the cultural sphere. These changes have led to poets having vastly developed different manners with which they forge their verse. You have the fervent moment-of automatic writers like Kerouac, to the adamant editors and re-workers (some like Marianne Moore going even as far as to edit works for years after publishing). Some of the greats even wrote for dollars per line—hence works of vast scope and a better price paid at the end (I’m looking at you Wordsworth). I never try to emulate these writers that came before and those that are during my time. What I’ve found is that trying too much is worse than not trying enough when it comes to writing poetry. If I force the thought then the poem feels forced. The wording becomes jilted, and sometimes the message too obvious—too preachy.

It’s the little things I write about now—not the lost loves or the dogmatic politician. I don’t write of the tsunami that has killed thousands, or of the state of religion in the West. I can’t remember the last time I wrote of something that mattered to anyone, but what I write always matters to me. The way a snow-shielded light creates lace patterns on my wife’s back as she sleeps. The way the moon seems so far away, but in the next century will be so close. The way red wine, when left to breathe, tastes much fuller and flavourful—perhaps like how people, when given the chance to breathe, can be more themselves.

I write now of what is important to the personal—and in doing so have found that my poetry has begun to matter to others. Rejections decline, books are read and bought, questions are now asked of me.

 

Most importantly, however, I still write poetry both with set goals, and with set aims and dreams. I pair this obsessive planning with the carelessness of creation and in doing so have found a teetering balance. I don’t follow grammar all the time—and sometimes what I write makes no sense at first. I’ve forgotten thoughts when I’ve been too slow to jot them down. But my work always starts with a single thought, and then comes the mad dash of writing, followed by another slow crawl to publication.

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D. Mars Yuvarajan is a Tamil New Zealand poet.  He holds an MFA in Creative Writing and lives in New Hampshire, when not traveling the world.  He has published six poetry collections to date: Night Owl and Other Poems, Kintsugi, .M.oments (Volume One), Quiet Songs From Yesterday, We Live With the Departed, and In My Dreams I Walk Through Killing Fields.  He owns and runs the independent publishing house Works of Mars Press.

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