Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Fallow Writing Periods and Triggers

My last post, “Have You Been Wasting Precious Writing Time,” provoked a good deal of response. Many readers seemed to take comfort in knowing that Louise Gluck went for long periods of time without writing any poems. However, while they took comfort in knowing that they were not alone in going through fallow periods, many also made it clear that they felt disappointed, unsuccessful, and frustrated. They wanted it to be otherwise, They wanted to be writing. This set me to thinking some more about the subject.

First of all, stop raking yourself over the coals for not writing. It may be that you’ve earned an extended break. If, for example, you’ve just published a book, you may need to step back and just cool yourself off for a while. You may need to replenish the well inside you, that place where the poems come from. Maybe you need to concentrate on getting readings and enjoying being the author of a newly published book. Or maybe you’ve just completed a manuscript and need a break. Writing is a joy, but it’s also hard work. Sometimes a vacation is in order. Or maybe life has just been a bit overwhelming. It’s okay to give yourself some time off. Not everyone writes like William Stafford.

Understand that during the time you are not writing you may, nevertheless, be doing the work of a poet. You may be observing, storing up, gathering. You’re getting ready for the next burst of new poems. Believe that they will come. Maybe not as soon as you’d like, but they will come. They are waiting for the right trigger.

However, you may have to find or create the trigger that will unleash the poems that live inside you. Here are some suggestions for doing that:

Prepare to open a vein.
1. Make a date with yourself to write every day for the next week. Not for forever but for a week. Not to write poems but just to write. Schedule this into your day. Keep it short, maybe even as short as ten minutes per session. No topics? Look out the window and write about the first thing you see. Free write without stopping. No going back over. No revising. At the end of the week, look at what you’ve written—probably an impressive amount. Is any of it calling to you, saying, “Hey, I want to be a poem”? Can any of the pieces be combined? Is it all a big ugly flop? If so, repeat the next week. Eventually, something will click, will set a fire inside you. Until then, at least you’re writing.

2. Create a Day of Poetry at your house. I’ve done this several times and it’s wildly productive and fun.

3. Go to readings. There’s something about just sitting there and listening that gets your creative mind working. There’s something about being among other poets that reminds you of who you are.

4. Read poems. Every day. This is part of the hunting and gathering. You may not be writing, but you are doing the work of a poet.

5. Go for walks. Listen to music as you do so.

6. Write some reviews of poetry collections. The close attention this requires will feed your poetic imagination. And you’ll be doing important work, necessary work. You’ll be firming up your membership in the poetry community.

7. Use prompts. Now don’t give me that nonsense that real poets don’t use prompts. Every poem is prompted by something. Get your hands on some books of poetry prompts. Here are some suggestions:

        The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop, by Diane Lockward, Wind Publications, 2013. Craft Tips, model poems, prompts, Q&As, 101 poet contributors

        Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, by Scott Wiggerman and David Meischen, Dos Gatos Press, 2011. A boatload of prompts by a variety of poets, many of them teachers

        Wingbeats II: Exercises & Practice in Poetry, the sequel, by Scott Wiggerman and David Meischen, Dos Gatos Press, 2014. Another boatload of prompts by a variety of poets, many of them teachers

        The Daily Poet: Day-by-Day Prompts for Your Writing Practice, by Kelli Russell Agodon and Martha Silano, Two Sylvias Press, 2013. A quick prompt for each day of the year.

While I hope that you’ll get at least a few books of prompts for your desk, I also want to suggest that there are websites that offer prompts. One of my favorites is Adele Kenny’s The Music In It.  Adele offers a new prompt every Saturday. Her prompts typically include a good deal of craft discussion and links to sample poems.

Another favorite site for poetry prompts is Margo Roby's Wordgathering. Margo offers lots of creative prompts and does so on a regular basis.

Another blog for prompts that I like is by Rachel McKibbens. She seems to have stopped keeping the blog up to date and the site is a mess, but the past prompts are there and they look like fun.

The idea is to give yourself a crash program in total immersion. As Georgia Heard might say, marinate yourself in poetry.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Have You Been Wasting Precious Writing Time?

The Sept/Oct issue of Poets & Writers contains an interview with Louise Gluck. In the interview, entitled “Internal Tapestries,” Gluck speaks of her long-time love of mystery books. This interested me as I’m a big fan of true crime books. (Interesting that fans of one seem not to be fans of the other genre. Who can explain that?) Gluck’s love of mystery books was recently supplanted by her fascination with a newly acquired iPad.

Although she was initially resistant to the device, Gluck turned to it as it was the only way she could watch “Orange Is the New Black,” a TV show in which her niece plays a role. She then just kept on using the thing. It became her “bed buddy.” She admits to having quickly become an “addict.”

Then she says what might make us cringe a bit: “At the moment it has usurped the place of reading in my life. Part of me thinks this is dangerous; my own vocation will dissolve. Another part of me thinks this is exploratory, that if my vocation is so fragile or precarious it isn’t a vocation.”

I imagine that this resonated with many readers. It sure did with me. I routinely castigate myself for the amount of time I spend on the computer. And I’ve noticed in recent years that I’ve been paying hefty library fines on books which now seem to take me longer to get through than they did before I became addicted.

Woman Wasting Time
The interview raised for me the question of what constitutes wasting time? Is there, for a poet, anything that is truly a distraction? Or is it all grist for the mill? Gluck goes on to speak of a two-year period when she read nothing but garden catalogues. How embarrassing! Oh, not so fast to judge, please. At the end of those two years she wrote The Wild Iris, a book that earned her the Pulitzer Prize.

Gluck has come to believe that “there’s something my brain needs in such indulging,” and so she no longer resists or suffers from guilt. She knows that these side excursions, these diversions may very well lead to new writing and are necessary to her writer’s mind. The time she spends on the iPad “is just dream time, the way detective fiction is. It stills a certain kind of anxiety and at the same time engages the mind. As the mind is engaged and anxiety is suppressed, some imaginative work in some recessed portion of the being is getting done.”

Here’s what strikes me as good advice from Gluck: “Don’t prejudge your stimuli. Just trust where your attention goes.” Who knows what will lead where?

Gluck speaks also of a long period of not writing and suffering from the sense that she was losing words. Her sister advised her to write about that. Eventually this state of not writing became her newest book, Faithful and Virtuous, in which she explores the previously unexplored territory of her wordlessness.

Gluck concludes that when she thought she hadn’t been working she had indeed been working. Kind of takes the pressure off, doesn’t it? And the best part is that it’s true. I have come to regard my not infrequent fallow periods as times of hunting and gathering, though I hope to soon emerge from the current such period and start again showing up at the desk. What will I bring with me?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I Wanna Be the Next American Idol

My guitar if I were a rock star
I’m an “American Idol” super fan. I watch every single week, and if I have to go somewhere one night, I dvr it. After all these years, it’s still a show I wouldn’t miss. I even vote for my favorites. I don’t care about the declining numbers, unless that means the show gets cancelled. This year was extra special as my favorite contestant, Caleb Johnson, won.

As I watched the judges, Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and Harry Connick, critique the contestants this year, I kept thinking how relevant their comments were for poets as well as musicians. I took some notes as the weeks went by:

If the delivery is too introspective, you may keep the audience out.

You need to know what the words mean or you won’t feel them or communicate them to the audience.

Match your body to the words.

There must be emotional dynamics in the delivery.

Know who you are, what kind of artist you want to be—but from time to time, surprise us.

Get out of your comfort zone.

Get out of your wheelhouse. Show us a new version of you. Do what you haven’t done before.

If you’re giving us what we know, put a twist on it.

If you always do the same thing, you become predictable. Take risks. You can’t grow as an artist if you don’t.

Be dependable without being predictable.

You need both the yin and the yang. You can’t be all one or the other.

Give us authenticity.

Rehearse to get rid of the nerves.

Be self-assertive. Come out and own it.

Sing your song to someone. Imagine someone.

All good advice for poets, yes? Poetry is our singing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Happy Birthday to The Crafty Poet

It’s now been a year since The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop  entered the world. It’s been a very exciting year and I couldn’t be happier with the reception the book has received.

One of the sources of happiness has been knowing that a number of colleges and universities have adopted the book as a textbook. As a former teacher, it’s thrilling to have my book enter the classroom. These schools include:

Bellevue College, WA
California State University, Long Beach
Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA
Kean University, NJ
Lake Superior State University, MI
Lone Star College System, TX
Seattle University, WA
Sussex County Community College, NJ
Montana State University, Billings
University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas
Valparaiso University, Indiana
Washington & Lee University, VA                                         

I was also delighted to learn that The Crafty Poet will be the textbook for a course called “Read It, Write It,” soon to be taught at a Pennsylvania prison.

The book was also used as the textbook in an online summer course, “The Art of Poetry Writing,” taught by poet Melanie Faith and sponsored by WOW (Women on Writing).

I’ve received notes from a number of poets who are using the book in poetry workshops. Last month the book was used as the textbook in a workshop taught at a Sufi gathering in Mendocino, California. This fall the book will be used in a workshop led by C.A. LaRue for the Jambalaya Poets in Louisiana. LaRue recently held a contest for a free virtual spot in the workshop.

I was fortunate to have two local book parties, both held at libraries. Both of these were attended by more than a dozen of the poets in the book, all of whom read and discussed their poems from the book.

I took my show on the road in May and gave a group presentation at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Again, I was joined by a number of poets from the book. We had a fabulous time.

Bloggers and online reviewers have been very generous in the attention and praise given to the book. An early review was written by Martha Silano at her blog, Blue Positive. A more recent review was written by Lynn Domina at her review site.

The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop is reviewed by editor Joshua Hjalman Lind in the Hartskill Review, a new print journal. Lind says "...these prompts are helpful, guiding the reader through exercises very much like a personal trainer who motivates us to get off the couch." He also says that the book is "useful as a collection of fine poems, from which one can learn much about how poetry works." And he concludes with this: "It is clear that Lockward is a sensitive reader and mentor, and her efforts to compile and communicate useful writing tips will help a lot of aspiring poets." I was pleased to see that several of the contributors to this issue of the journal are also contributors to the book: Kelly Cherry, Janet McCann, Joel Allegretti, Wendy Ingersoll, and Charlotte Mandel.

Back in the fall The Crafty Poet was named a Best Book for Writers by Poets & Writers. The Crafty Poet is currently #1 on the list of Best Books on Writing Poetry at Goodreads.

Thanks for being part of the party! Cupcakes for everyone!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Good Stuff Going On Here and There

I've had a handful of poems recently published here and there as well as a few other tidbits going on.

My poem, "Pyromania," appears in the new print anthology, This Is Poetry Volume I: Women of the Small Press. Edited by Michele MacDannold and published by Citizens for Decent Literature Press, the collection includes the work of forty contemporary women poets. "Pyromania" first appeared in Prairie Schooner. It is also in my book, What Feeds Us. I'll have one more poem in Volume II which should appear six months from now.

In the online world I have five poems in the annual issue of Avatar Review. I've never had a journal accept that many poems in one fell swoop. Kind of sweet. Two of the poems have audios.

Then my poem, "The Morphology of Mushrooms," appears in the current issue of Cider Press Review. This is my first appearance in this online journal since it switched from print to online. The new poetry editor, Ruth Foley, is doing a great job. My poem was written to one of the prompts in my book, The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop. I practice what I preach. Well, sometimes I do.

I recently did a five-question interview on process with Laura E. Foley at Dear Outer Space. This is part of a writers on writing series that Laura does twice a week. She sent ten questions and I chose five to respond to. Many secrets are revealed.

A few months ago Nic Sebastian invited me to submit some poems to The Poetry Storehouse where poems are given new life by becoming part of video remixes. I submitted my poem "Orchids" from my book, What Feeds Us. Nic recorded the poem. Then she turned the poem and the recording into a remix with gorgeous still images. Shortly thereafter, I got double lucky when videographer Paul Broderick chose to do another remix using an entirely different set of images and video clips. Both of these videos are exquisite. Nic subsequently interviewed me about my experience with the remixes. "Remixing the vocabulary of orchids: an interview with Diane Lockward" is posted at the Moving Poems Forums, hosted by Dave Bonta.

As if that weren’t enough excitement, Erica Goss, in her column "The Third Form" at Connotation Press, did an article in which she features five pairs of videos. In each pair both videos use the same poem. One of the pairs is the two videos of “Orchids.” Erica, by the way, contributed a lovely poem, “The Scent of Orange Blossoms,” to The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Making / Taking Time for Poetry

The Villetta Inn
(photo by Wendy Taylor Carlisle)

Last week I did something I haven't done in a long time. I went to a writers' retreat. I indulged myself and nurtured my writing. I mingled with other poets. I was not interrupted by laundry, the phone, the need to prepare meals, appointments on the calendar, or any of the other things that break up our concentration and demand our time.

I decided some months ago that it was time to begin putting together a new manuscript of poems and that I needed uninterrupted time to do that. I have plenty of time at home; what I don't have is uninterrupted time. So I signed up for the Mayapple Writers' Retreat in Woodstock, NY. This program is run by Judith Kerman who also runs Mayapple Press, a fine small poetry press. Judy began this program in Michigan in 2003 as the Rustbelt Writers' Retreat. In 2012 when she moved to Woodstock, she brought the program with her and renamed it to reflect the new location.

What distinguishes this program from others is that there is no faculty. The participants cooperatively run their own workshops which are kept very small. (The largest group this year was four.) Participants must have an MFA or comparable degree and publication credits. This is not a program for beginners. Because there is no faculty, the cost is significantly less than for other programs.

Participants can stay at the Villetta Inn, pictured above, in single rooms. There's a large kitchen where residents can store food and do their own food preparation. The workshops are also held at the Inn. The town of Woodstock is a short drive away. I elected to stay at the Woodstock Inn on the Millstream, about a 7-minute drive away. My room was small but nice and very clean and blissfully quiet. What I liked best was that I could walk to the village green where all the shops are. The inn offered a continental breakfast. I found a nifty place called Bread Alone where I could get homemade soup for lunch and a sandwich for dinner. Toss in a few pastries.

We all arrived at the Villetta Inn late Tuesday afternoon, got acquainted, and then had a delicious catered dinner at the Inn. Workshops were held each morning from 10:00 to 12:30, Wednesday thru Sunday. There was one CNF group, three manuscript groups (each with just 3 participants), and one individual poems group (4 participants). Given that I went because I want to put together a manuscript, it would have made sense for me to have been in a manuscript group, but no could do as that manuscript has yet to be assembled. Also, I had a bunch of poems, all pretty new, that I wanted feedback on so I could decide if they were book-worthy. We got through three poems each at each day's workshop, so that was very useful.

After each workshop I returned to my room, walked to the green, got some lunch and dinner (for later), then returned to my room. One day I had a terrific lunch date with Arkansas poet Wendy Taylor Carslisle at a local restaurant. 

Once back at my room, I did some revisions and began work on the manuscript. That is such hard work! I mapped out themes and motifs, pulled some poems that didn't fit, questioned others. Separated the poems into groups by theme. Though I won't use a thematic arrangement, my separation approach helps me to see what I'm working with and suggests how I might work with constellations of themes. So the project is nowhere near done, but it's underway.

Each evening there was a reading for four participants. Mine was on Friday which happened to be the night we had a group dinner at New World Cooking, a nearby restaurant. This was included in our program fee and was very nice.

After Sunday's workshop I headed home. I was reminded once again how essential it is to set aside time for concentrated work on our poetry. If you can't make the time, you need to take the time, by force if necessary. I'm glad I did. Now my goal is to beat that manuscript into submission.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Poet on the Poem: Alessandra Lynch

I am pleased to feature Alessandra Lynch in The Poet on the Poem. I found her poem, "Magnolia," in 32 Poems and was immediately captivated by it. I then tracked down the poet and she generously agreed to participate in the following Q&A.

Alessandra Lynch is the author of two collections of poetry: Sails the Wind Left Behind, winner of Alice James Books’ New York/New England prize, and It was a terrible cloud at twilight, winner of Pleiades Press’ Lena-Miles Wever Todd Award, judged by James Richardson. She has received fellowships from Yaddo and MacDowell, and she was a recipient of a Barbara Deming Memorial Award. Her poems have appeared in numerous poetry journals, including The American Poetry Review, Blackbird, The Cortland Review, Crazyhorse, The Massachusetts Review, Ploughshares, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Volt. She teaches in the undergraduate and MFA programs at Butler University and lives near an Indianapolisian canal with her husband poet, Chris Forhan, and their two sons, Milo and Oliver.

Alessandra's most recent poetry book is It was a terrible cloud at twilight.

Click Cover for Amazon


A wedding broke out in the magnolia—
                          fever of white gloves, distressed wind.

The bells hung upside down. They’d choked
on their own tongues.
                                  Hung too, on unspeaking terms
with the air, I acknowledged the impasse--
                                  I wore a dress of paralysis.

Then all her little white dresses lifted as one—
                                 as though on signal—a four year old
                                               girl tilting up her own dress in the living room, opening up
                                               like an umbrella to her mother’s lover, her face, god I can’t
                                               even imagine it, sweet and cold, methodical, desperate,
trying to woo him—.
                                  Maybe I don’t want

a voice at all.  All this mouthing in the magnolia--
thin cries
                         —too delicate
                                                to tend.

I think of a sea and its glistening foams and cascades hundreds of miles off
and its whales’ limbic thudding through water, their intelligent eyes
bright with salt.
                        Rushed wind…
                                     White  rushing petals…
                                                                          the ransacked

DS: What ignited this poem? How did you get from the tree to the opening metaphor?

AL: When I write poetry, I work associatively (and swiftly)—through image and sound. I never  know what will arise from my tapping into language and tinkering with images. I read every draft obsessively to heed the music. I never analyze what I’m doing until the very “last” drafts, or until someone asks me to analyze my work (a la Blogalicious!—I’ve learned much about my own poem through your questions). In this way, I feel I can trust that what appears on the page is coming from a deeper, more surprising place—the realm of poetry—than what my conscious mind alone might conjure.

Living just outside my bedroom window, there is a magnolia tree that blooms yearly—roughly five days’ worth of luminous white blossoms (at times they appear to be floating on air, detached from the branches). It grows so close to my window that it seems to be pressing into the room.  Its leaves are dark green and shiny. I have had intimate views of yellow finches among its branches. One year, a robin built her nest in it, and I watched her fledglings hatch there. Magnolias have been around since the time of the dinosaurs and zillions of years before bees!

This magnolia is a tree I adore, a tree I turn to when I am despondent, a tree I marvel over for its leaves’ depth of glossy green, its supple blossoms’ ghostly glow. One day, I began marveling over how the blossoms looked like thin white gloves, the whole tree like a wedding party or a bride of sorts—hence, the “wedding” metaphor in the poem. I felt distress in the tree, too, for a number of possible reasons: the wind was harrying them, magnolia blossoms last briefly, and my associations with “wedding” are based mainly on my experience as a child of my parents’ harrowing divorce.

The verb “broke out” and the “fever of white gloves” suggest contagion and agitation. The bells image furthers the wedding motif, and bells “hung upside down” echoes the shape of blossoms; but these are bells that can’t express themselves, muted by their own nature. The magnolia has no voice or mode of “self-expression,” other than the quick change of blossoms to leaves to stark branches. The bells “choking on their tongues” could lead associatively to the speaker’s poor relationship with life or air—the essential element in the world that keeps us alive and enables us to speak.  “The impasse” then has to do with lack of communication or blocked communication as in the bells and the speaker. This “impasse” is further embodied by the sibilant sequence—it underscores the “impasse” by keeping the reader stuck in that one hissing sound (perhaps spawned by the word “unspeaking”).

I think now of Robert Lowell’s marriage poem “Man and Wife” (pointing directly to problems in a marriage) and Gerald Stern’s “Magnolia,” in which there is a rather makeshift wedding depicted (“two tin buckets / of blossoms waiting for us”). I don’t know if those other poets’ poems rose through my blood on that day of looking, or maybe the magnolia tree inherently inspires such a connection to weddings or marriages—the blast of rich, voluptuous white, the heartbreakingly short-lived blossoms.

DL: I’m intrigued by your metaphor, “I wore a dress of paralysis.” Tell us about this metaphor and the surprising shift from the dress to the four-year-old girl and then to the whales.

AL: Perhaps “dress of paralysis”  arose from the initial wedding metaphor—with its “white gloves,” but it also embodies the speaker’s inability to express, to break out of the “impasse” and to move words and/or life forth…. Still, it is a dress, and the implication could be that there is a vital, active life/female body encased by that dress. Perhaps this type of dress is a protective one. Don your “dress of paralysis” and you don’t have to speak and make yourself vulnerable. I believe that often we remain silent out of some kind of terror. I also think of how immobile trees can appear to be—almost paralyzed—when actually they are constantly in motion.

“All her little white dresses lifted as one” could bespeak magnolia petals upwardly blowing, opening a space or door into memory, expressing some kind of vulnerability—I feel the line as mysterious and ghostly. This line might have been triggered by “I wore a dress of paralysis” not only through the dress-image association but also through the psychological effect of an insight opening a door. This part of the poem becomes rather “chunky” typographically as there is an “opening up” or confessional quality to the language. That scene of the little girl flirting with her mother’s lover (the earlier “distressed wind” being part of the wedding could connect to this scene), and the various, complicated expressions on her face in the doing, ignite the speaker’s own desperation about voicing herself, which possibly opens her up to pain. Vulnerability is intrinsic to self-expression. The girl’s “tilting up her own dress” is a voiceless communication, a plea borne of a complex situation having to do with need and confusion…

The statement of not wanting “a voice at all” feels as though it solidifies a nascent theme of disconnection in this poem. Another nascent theme is surrender—surrender both as giving up and as releasing (uttering). “All this mouthing in the magnolia” could allude to the various metaphors speaking throughout the poem, as well as the blossoms and leaves of the tree which, to this writer, are some of the tree’s “mouths.”

The shift in the poem to the sea and its “glistening foams and cascades” is the speaker’s way of contending with the enormous responsibility and ensuing futility expressed in “too delicate to tend.” Thus, the speaker-poet adjusts her focus to the sea—a new association she has with the magnolia blossoms: the foams and cascades—the realm of whales? The speaker (and reader?) might find respite and comfort at this point in the poem in the beauty and power and distance of the sea and the whales. The enormous undersea beauty might counteract the speaker’s feelings of fracture, might wash away painful memories, but—alas!—the wind lives everywhere—land and sea—and a “rushed wind” makes not only the “foams and cascades” of the sea but also those of the magnolia tree; and here it disrupts this lulling sea-rhapsody, returning the speaker and the poem to the tree and its “fever of white gloves.”

DL: The sounds in your poem are lovely and subtle. For example, in stanza 2, you have “hung” and its repetition, “tongues,” and “unspeaking.” In stanza 3, you have “impasse,” “dress,” and “paralysis.” How deliberate was your use of assonance and consonance?

AL: My first drafts tend to be rife with imagery and music—it’s how my mind works, it’s how I’ve always invoked my poems. There’s nothing particularly deliberate about it—all of it’s unbidden. The music in language is visceral and mysterious and the truest mode of expression I know. All those sound sequences arose as I wrote the initial draft and remained throughout the drafting process. I probably had many other moments of music that weren’t as charged or intrinsic to the piece that I left behind on the cutting room floor (after doffing my hat to the work those lyrical passages helped me do). The music in language leads my mind, and I try my best to follow it and to recognize when the music is intrinsic to the image and to the emotional root of the poem versus when the music is decorative or just music for music’s sake (though, at times, poems need moments of the latter too).

DL: What is the function of your poem’s form? At what point in the drafting did you incorporate the indentations?

AL: Fairly early in the drafting (possibly the second draft), I began indenting (without consciously thinking about why or how—it just helped me feel a certain energy or life on the page). Now I see that I was probably following the feeling of agitation and augmenting the motif of air through the spaces.  The indentations could also embody the expansion and contraction of breath in a distressed state or the structure or design of how magnolia blossoms appear on each branch. In earlier drafts, the indentation was more erratic and perhaps a bit melodramatic.

DL: In the closing stanza, with its three quick images, you return to the wind of the first stanza. Why that circling back? What made you decide to put the word “air” on its own line flush to the left margin?

AL: I guess that, ultimately, the speaker-poet did want to tend to the magnolia’s thin cries—on some level, I might have wanted to keep the magnolia and all that it represents alive to the reader. And, in so doing, I continued to give voice to those tongue-choked bells, that speaker in her dress of paralysis, the child who lacked language for all she was experiencing.  Maybe the speaker-poet was compelled (however unwittingly) to continue facing the manifestations of her current distress, inasmuch as she swerved off to marvel over the whales. “Their intelligent eyes” could see what she was doing by swerving away from the magnolia! But in swerving, she dropped into the sea, realm of the unconscious, realm of deep inner truths.  Maybe those eyes were the catalyst for her to return and confront her own pain and bewilderment again for a truer catharsis.  

In terms of the last few breaths of the poem, I kept fiddling with the placement of “air” before deciding to keep it flush to the left margin. I wanted the feeling of “ransacking” to reverberate with all the other elements of the poem before settling on “air”—also, rhythmically, it felt too abrupt to have “air” on the same line as “ransacking”—and there was a sort of abandoned or neglected or stifled feeling I think I conveyed by isolating “air” in its own corner.

Ultimately, my writing process—including decisions about spacing and line breaks—is guided by intuition, certainly not a whole lot of consciousness or deliberation (those I reserve for writing other than poetry). These answers to your questions record notions that either came to me after the fact of writing or half-consciously guided me in the making of “Magnolia.” As Theodore Roethke says, “We think by feeling. What is there to know?”

Readers, please enjoy this recording of Alessandra Lynch reading her poem, "Magnolia."

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