This week, I read it Lucille Clifton’s The Book of Light. Toward the end of the collection, Clifton has several poems that explore the nuance of a single voice across several pages. I confess that as a reader and writer longer poems present something of a challenge because they require sustained attention to the possibility of language. In her poem about Satan in particular, I find myself lost in either the story or the voice, unable to – without extreme effort – focus on both at the same time.
As an exercise, I attempted to create a poem that topically traversed several pages and formally oscillated between structure and free verse. The most difficult part was the most basic: picking a topic. What is it that requires sustained attention? One poet I know complains that not every poem ought to have been written. I am not sure I agree wholeheartedly, but I do think it worth considering. The other difficult part of creating a longer poem is the interrogation of specific words – what something means in the first section or stanza could/should? change. No? Last, I found myself in the predicament of needing to choose which sections required more structured engagement than others. I suppose that right now my choice is random. That is what editing is for.
This is the tension I’m in right now: how to creatively sustain attention and possibility with ideas and concepts as ephemeral as the words used to describe them.