This past Saturday I gathered with other poets and poetry lovers at Carl Sandburg’s old farm, Connemara, in Flat Rock, NC, to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Jayne Ferrer’s website, “Your Daily Poem.” Connemara is now run by the National Park Service, preserving not only Sandburg’s working home (just as he left it!), but also the goat farm that was the work of his wife Lilian. Jayne’s website now has over 3000 subscribers, who receive a poem every day with biography of the author and Jayne’s commentary. She invited me and Sara Loudin Thomas, a writer in Asheville, to lead the group in reflecting on our writing.
This gave me the opportunity to bring to greater consciousness the process of my writing. I entitled my presentation “From Magma to Table.” The magma metaphor has been for some time my image of the unstructured but powerful awareness that fuels our basic creativity. It erupts at certain times in our lives when the mantle of our fragile existence is torn apart by powerful loves, fears, violence, or even emptiness. Using some pictures from Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano as well as one of my tables, I walked us through the phases of molten intensity, the burning of old structures of thought and expression, and then the crystallization of new awareness, to the more peaceful cone left after years of output. For the crystallization of this intense experience into images and stories, I drew on the creation of silky gossamers of glass created by the volcano. The Hawaiians call it “Pele’s Hair,” Pele being the goddess of the volcano. Around these images and core stories a poet builds a more substantial table of words for the listener where this experience can become a shared reality. Like the Hawaiian Islands, our poems are little islands of testimony to the creative work that builds our common world.
The task of the poet or any creative artist is to stay close to this molten core, but also to engage in the work of the craftsman. Too close to the magma and everything dissolves into chaos. But too close to the refined work of the craftsman, and everything becomes rigid, cold, and uninviting. The proper work of the poet is to build a table of words that can bring people together for nurture and conversation. As some of you may remember from my work on round tables, this is the whole principle behind the reconciling work of Roundtable Worship. But here I applied it to the work of the poet.
To build this poetic “table” we probably can’t walk on the old pathways fully. Like the roads around Kilauea, they have probably been covered with lava anyway! But there are elements that might build a pathway from molten intensity to a gathering table. Elements like alliteration, cadence, rhyme, repetition of words or phrases, or voice can connect the listener to the heat of the poet’s inspiration as well as to sounds that communicate and draw people into conversation with the author and each other.
Now, to some extent, “you had to be there” in our discussion, sharing, laughter, and discovery, but I hope this gives you the gist of what I was trying to say about the process of writing. Now, when I am presenting my work and someone asks “How do you write this stuff?” I have a whole talk to give!