Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Where Do Poems Come From?

On the second floor of the stately Marion Davies Guest House, the door to the Artist in Residence Office generally remains closed (except for office hours, Friday, 11 am–1 pm). So what's going on in there? you might wonder.


If you had X-ray vision, you would most likely see me either scribbling away in my writing journal, drafting something new, or, later in the day, typing up that morning's draft or revising an earlier poem that has been "ripening" for a while. Most poems require a little breathing room to reveal themselves to the fullest, and returning to something drafted days or weeks ago, or even longer, tends to offer new perspectives and ideas. 

Sometimes I will pull out a poem that has been sitting in my files for so long I don't remember having written it. At best, this can be an exciting discovery, a chance to shape raw material into something new. If the poem doesn't call to me, that's OK, too. There are always others where that one came from.... Where would that be? you ask. The answer sounds too easy, but it's true: Poems can come from absolutely anywhere: a passing thought, an overheard phrase, a dream, a memory, a piece of music, something read, something noticed on the street, the ocean smashing against the shore outside my office window (yes, I do see a corner of paradise out there!)—or any combination of these. It could be an idea that arises spontaneously, a thought that has been pursuing me for days, or a phrase from an unfinished poem that suggests a new one. 


The latter bit of serendipity happened recently, on my way home from a day spent working on several things, none of which caught fire. One of these was a poem about my lifelong love of dancing. I had decided by the end of the day to try a "list poem," cataloguing the various periods when dance played a part in my life—from my first dance class as a child to the nights as a young mother many years ago, when I would habitually spend Friday nights dancing barefoot on a wood floor at Dance Home, above the Radio Shack on Santa Monica Blvd. 

One of the episodes I listed took place in my first year of college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where I was an art student and budding jazz fan. I especially enjoyed hanging out with the jazz musicians, who occasionally invited me to their jam sessions and private parties, including a memorable evening line dancing at a shack on the outskirts of town. 

As I was exiting the freeway that evening after spinning circles around that dance poem, I noticed a license-plate frame on the car immediately in front of me that said, "I Would Rather Be / Line Dancing." What's the chance of that?! I immediately realized that I needed to drop the rest of the poem and concentrate on that experience alone. "Thank you!" I said aloud to the anonymous driver I was following. How perfect, since "line dancing" is essentially what a poem does. 

So if you come to my public reading at the Beach House on Tuesday evening, February 21, you will hear me read "Line Dancing" and know exactly where that poem came from: a distant memory and a surprising encounter with a license-plate frame—because poems can come from anywhere.

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Here are the three events associated with my writer's residency. All of them are on Tuesday nights, from 6:30 to 8 pm, at the Annenberg Community Beach House, and all require RSVP. You are warmly invited to attend any or all of them!

January 31: Poetry Reading featuring Teresa Mei Chuc, Daniel Romo, and Billy Burgos, followed by a discussion on poetry and the art of listening, moderated by Dinah Berland. 

February 21: Dinah Berland, reading from her book-in-progress, "Fugue for a New Life" 

March 7: Poetry reading by the Camera Obscura Poets (world premiere)





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