I think you should stop using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means…
Lollipops at the Botanical Gardens. May 2012
The problem is not my imagination. The problem—as I stare at a blank sheet which is demanding the poem—is that lately I seem to require permission/courage/a passcode to be imaginative.
I am highly imaginative at work in terms of figuring out what to program for our various social media channels that will best drive home any of the various talking points we’re highlighting in a given month. I am given incredible leeway to think outside the box, however, given that my job is public relations for a federal agency, there are still more than a few rules to follow around the peripheries of that box.
As I was reading through Hermione Lee’s biography of Mrs. Woolf, I was consistently struck by Mrs. Woolf’s sheer gumption. Not only was she highly imaginative, but she actively dared and pushed herself to tell stories in a way other than they’d traditionally been told. She was daring enough to interrupt the narrative of a family and assorted guests on holiday in To the Lighthouse with a meandering middle section that personified the aging of the house where they holidayed. She was daring enough to give her take on Elizabeth Barrett Browning by way of a piece on Browning’s dog Flush.* As I read of VW’s various experiments, I realized how infrequently I came up with lines—that might or might not stay in the poem—that were imaginatively outsized enough to generate enough heat to birth the lines of a poem down the page.
As an aside, I should say that I do believe that poem-ing, like other artistic pursuits, is more perspiration than inspiration. I also believe that oftentimes when I write a poem, I’ve been unconsciously doing the “pre-writing” for a while, and the outpouring on the page is not actually the start of the journey. When I speak of the “spark” I mean that phrase or sentence that pops into my head and somehow opens the gate so the poem can journey from the unconscious (or subsconscious) the conscious. Usually that phrase or sentence has something about it that, to me, feels daring about it. For instance starting a poem about Virginia Woolf with the line “She builds and unbuilds cairns” though I’ve no evidence at all that she actually did such a thing. Or sometimes the sentence is explicitly wacky, like every single line of Love Poem: “At midnight I loved you with an intestinal thickness that left me dizzy.”
I think what I’m really pondering is how much my work writing life has leached into my personal writing life. I often blame being tired from writing or thinking about writing all day for my lack of steady output, but even when I’m on vacation I don’t write that often. Well, I journal, but that journal writing has become much more a catalog of to do lists and what I’ve done lists rather than the pages of stream-of-consciousness free writing that usually leads me to a poem. I’m wondering if I’m secretly harboring the idea that there’s a “right” way to write poems because most of my writing time is, in fact, spent in rules-driven environment. And how can I actively impress upon my subsconcious writing mind that the rules are fine for work, but at all other times, it is free to play and be outrageous and make up history or what seems like nonsense lines? I have no answers but I’m curious to hear what you think, especially if your art form is also how you make your living.
*I haven’t yet read this so I’m unclear if EBB actually had a dog named flush or if VW made it up wholecloth.