Notes on Writing a Poem (1)
Poems play with words but must also have something to say. A poem isn’t just a language exercise. That’s why I think Ted Hughes’ best work is Birthday Letters, about his relationship with Sylvia Plath. I am also an admirer of Philip Larkin and the Dutch poet Gerrit Kouwenaar.
All quite different poets who have this in common: you get the feeling that their poems had to be written. Their poems closely reflect their own personality. Another remarkable similarity is their relatively low output. By the way, Gerrit Kouwenaar is still alive.
So it is recommended to take time to write a poem. In my case it often starts with a sudden line. It can pop into my head in the middle of the street but it is always about a subject that is occupying me.
The next thing is to lit a cigar and sit down in the beach chair on my balcony and think about the subject from a metaphorical point of view. Those are the lines I write down. They have to be lines that stick in your mind. After a few days, I collect the most remarkable ones to form a poem. Afterwards I tinker with the poem.
What’s surprising is that the best poems are written relatively quickly. You often hear the same about writing a good pop song. That it takes a long time to write the next poem is not because of the actual writing time, but you need to think about the subject. Your chosen subject has to lodge itself in your subconscious. You have to be in the right frame of mind to write a poem.
Dutch poet Remco Campert once said that he found it difficult to write poems during the ten years he wrote a column on alternate days for de Volkskrant, a Dutch newspaper.
I too, cannot work on a poem and a column at the same time. However I can work on a poem during one half of the week and devote the other half to writing a column.
Yet, poems as well as columns have to deal with something that occupies my mind. Another similarity between both genres is that you want to say a lot in just a few words. They differ in that poems appeal to your subconscious. When I write a column I immerse myself in the news, but when writing a poem I cut myself off from every distraction.
I recently realised that I often deal with the interaction between what’s personal and society, in my poems as well as in my columns. In short, I am on my way to the beach chair.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar