Wednesday, August 8, 2012

How Poems Get Written


There is not a single answer to that premise. There is not a single answer to anything regarding poetry. Nevertheless, for myself, there is what might be called a pattern that the construction of a poem often follows.

Often, what later becomes a poem begins with a single phrase, line, or image. In the case of the poem below, it was the image of an otherwise non-descript field behind a run-down finishing plant being brought to life by a blossoming of purple flowers.

That phrase, line, or image is then carried around for days, weeks, or months in my notebook, or in my head (admittedly a more risky approach) if I don’t get it written down. In this case, the sentence “Behind the finishing plant a field is bursting open with purple flowers” sat in my notebook for several months.

Over time, the phrase, line, or image accumulates other phrases, lines, or images until a sense of weightiness or significance or cohesion develops. Sometimes that happens gradually, sometimes in a burst, and sometimes not at all. In this case, it was a burst. I was actually standing on a dock outside the Comfort Suites in New Bern, NC, listening to the sounds of several types of birds when the phrase “meaningful noise” sprang to my mind, along with the idea that we hear such noise better with our eyes closed.

I quickly jotted down the first stanza, changing the birds to ones whose songs I felt comfortable describing. The idea of “meaningful noise” clicked with the idea that those purple flowers I had noticed months ago were also somehow meaningful. So, I joined the first stanza with that previous phrase, changed the season to spring in accordance with the flowers, added a bit of detail to create a stronger sense of place, and linked the ideas of flowers, listening, and meaningful noise in the final two lines.

Here is the end result

All the Meaningful Noise
by Scott Owens

How can you be on this earth
and not close your eyes on occasion
and listen to leaves give voice to wind,
hear the laugh of crow,
annunciation of blue jay,
high-pitched twitter of chickadee,
moan of mourning dove,
all the meaningful noise
of another spring day?

Behind the finishing plant
off the run-down road
between failing furniture towns,
a field is bursting with purple flowers.
If you close your eyes
you can hear the cosmos opening.


  1. Excellent post. Isn't it wonderful and amazing how poems plant a seed and grow until they emerge in full bloom sometime later?!

    I love the poem!

  2. Thanks, Pris. I hope you're doing well.

  3. I don't know why this takes me back to the summer workshop I took with you, but both have been tremendously useful. And I love your poem; it makes me miss home.

  4. Thanks, Jordan. Is the orientation of your photo an indication of your location -- down under -- looking at things from the bottom up? Clever.

    1. This is interesting.; My poems are inspired by other poems, ideas that pop into my head, or events. I once wrote a poem after attending a church service where the minister said, "When you woke up this morning, did you hear the hope?" I thought, now there's a poem.

      Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of
      We Shall Overcome
      How to Build a Better Mousetrap:
      Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver