Poet Brian Brodeur has an excellent blog, How a Poem Happens: Contemporary Poets Discuss the Making of Poems. Brodeur interviews poets in a Q & A format, asking them about their process and inspiration.
I’m currently reading Burn Lake by Carrie Fountain, and she is one of the interviewed poets. The poem presented on the blog is Fountain’s “Experience.”
When I think of everything I’ve wanted
I feel sick. There was this one night in winter
when Jennifer Scanlon and I were driven out
to the desert to be the only girls there
when the boys got drunk and chose
the weakest among themselves to beat the living
shit out of again and again while the night
continued in its airy way to say nothing. Sure, I wanted
to believe violence was a little bell you could ring
and get what you wanted. It seemed to work for those
boys, who’d brought strict order to the evening
using nothing but a few enthusiastic muscles.
Even when he’d begun bleeding from his nose, the boy
stayed. It was an initiation. That’s what he believed.
Thank God time keeps erasing everything in this steady,
impeccable way. Now it’s like I never lived
that life, never had to, sitting on a tailgate
while Jennifer asked for advice on things she’d already done,
watching the stars ferment above, adoring whatever it was
that allowed those boys to throw themselves fists-first
at the world, yell every profanity ever made
into the open ear of the universe. I believed then
that if only they’d get quiet enough, we’d hear
the universe calling back, telling us what to do next.
Of course, if we’d been quiet, we would’ve heard
nothing. And that silence, too, would’ve ruined us.
Reading through the interview, the comment that is most interesting for me is Fountain’s description of revision:
Brodeur: How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?
Fountain: I did not consciously employ any principles of technique. One thing I often do while I’m in the middle* of revising is put everything in tercets or quatrains. I bundle the lines like this. That somehow disappears the breaks for me and helps me focus on the body of the poem, the syntax and the tone. Then I rip it open again and break the lines in different ways, modulating the pace. This is not a technique in traditional sense, I suppose, as much as it is a maneuver: a way of levering up the poem to get to its underside.
*Of course, I never know that I’m in the middle and almost always think I’m at the end of revising, very close to being entirely finished. Self-deception: is that a technique?
I like Fountain’s idea of breaking the poem into sets of lines to help focus on the essential elements of the work-in-progress, and repeating this process multiple times.
The entire interview for Carrie Fountain can be found on How a Poem Happens.