poem index

How Do You Begin A Poem?

Year

2011

Six poets featured in the 2011 Poets Forum in New York City participated in a six-question interview in which they were asked about their own poetry, what books they're reading, and how they engage with social media like Facebook and Twitter. Check out excerpted answers to the first question posed to them: "How do you begin a poem?"—along with their answers to five other questions.


Cate Marvin

Cate Marvin: I like to think of poets as moving through the world with their minds poised like nets, intent on capturing scraps of language, resonant images. Thinking as a poet means viewing the world as a poem; thus, the poet is prone to existing in real space and time in a most vulnerable manner. This means being super-observant wherever your physical self takes your mind, as it requires being terribly receptive to light, images, movement, conversations between others, oddities many might be inclined to overlook in newspaper headlines, heatedly intimate conflicts overheard in public places, disingenuous directions offered by advertisements and street signs, etc.
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Gabrielle CalvocoressiGabrielle Calvocoressi: Often, I begin a poem with a walk, or a song I hear that begins a movie of the poem getting made in my head. That's funny to write "out loud" but it's true. I'm a daydreamer and a wanderer so a lot of my day is spent imagining the world of the poem before the words even come. Particularly for this new book that I'm working on—the poems are a real story so I spend a lot of time just imagining what the characters might do and how the light looks and the car radio sounds when they do it.
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Cathy Park Hong Cathy Park Hong:
1.   I read a lot, procrastinating from actually writing with "research."
2.   I go to the New York Public Library, fill out requests for books, retrieve books, read, and take copious notes in the Rose Room.
3.   Sometimes, I force myself to write a sonnet a day, where I just empty my head.
4.   Go to museums, films, galleries, where I steal images.
5.   I unload most of this raw material into my unlined black notebook that I always buy at a tiny stationery store on 12th Street. The notebook may consist of information, data, "free writing," stabs at stanzas, to do lists, directions to places (I don't have an iPhone).
6.   Transfer mess to computer and twiddle with it. 
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Evie ShockleyEvie Shockley: There is a fullness in my mind, a crowding and jostling and rumbling of ideas, outrages, phrases, and images, reaching as far as my mind's eye can "see" in any direction, and I begin wading into the crowd and trying to make a space from which to think about what some (or all) of the things in it have in common or what they might have to say to each other—if I could only create an arena where that analysis or conversation could happen.
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Ilya Kaminsky Ilya Kaminsky: I write in lines. So the lines find their way on paper whether I overhear two boys insulting each other at the gas station, or see a gull cleaning her feet, or two old men playing dominoes on a hood of a car, or two young women kissing at the fish market. They become lines on receipts, on my hands, on a water bottle, on other people's poems. Lines collect for years, but once in a while they discover that other lines are sexy and, well, the poems may come from that sort of a relationship. If I am lucky. Which isn't often. But one has to have faith.
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Matthew Dickman

Matthew Dickman: Most of the poems I write begin with a simple word or idea. I'll be drinking coffee and think, "I like coffee!" and then I'll start writing about how much I like coffee. It sounds pretty basic, I know. I suppose it's the "like" that moves me to begin writing a poem—some sort of celebration in my chest wanting some words to understand itself, some sort of grief needing a body.
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The 2011 Poets Forum featured two dynamic panels showcasing these younger poets, in which they examined imaginative uses of language, and how ideas of place and travel operate in their own work and in the poems that have influenced them.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Matthew Dickman, and Cate Marvin were on a panel titled "Regional Aesthetics and Sensibility in American Poems," and Cathy Park Hong, Ilya Kaminsky, and Evie Shockley were on a panel titled "Vision and Innovation in Contemporary Poetry."

Learn more about the Academy of American Poets' annual Poets Forum.