Posts Tagged ‘Elizabeth Bishop’

Weaving your Conception Nest

July 21, 2012  |  Uncategorized  |  Comments Off on Weaving your Conception Nest

The joy of craft is its time consuming precision and careful focused attention.  Like needlework of old, take pleasure in that feminine quality of giving the time it takes to nurture the beautiful creation into being.  When in doubt about your poem, wait

Elizabeth Bishop would pin lines and words up over her desk to rearrange with gaps where she was unsure of the right word, keeping her poems in their conception nest for years before letting them try their wings.  About revision, she said, “What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that’s necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.”

In the Vassar College library there are seventeen extant drafts of  “One Art” written over a six month period, and they reveal just how hard Bishop had to work to match and master an uncontrollable grief by structuring it into the almost mathematical equation of a villanelle.— Edward Hirsch

We let the poems incubate for a while— then return with fresh eyes to find dead phrases, clichés, unneeded words, awkward lines, lack of clarity.  Then let them rest again, safe in the conception nest.

If they don’t seem to have what it takes to fly—

Ask yourself:  What am I not allowing myself to say?  Should it be said?  What is the point of this poem? Why do I want this poem to end?  Is it a false resolution?

Try using a different form or break out of form altogether if it is holding you back.  Always, keep the original version.  Make a copy and tear that one apart.  Enjoy the plasticity of the words and lines.

Imagine your poem is a film- would it work better as a flash-back or cutting together scenes that  jump around in time? Arbitrarily, move them around and see if you can find a more interesting order.  Collect some of your favourite words and toss them in, in unpredictable places like seasoning.

It can take years, but sometimes even the still- born poems can be resurrected.

Stillborn, by Sylvia Plath

These poems do not live: it’s a sad diagnosis.

They grew their toes and fingers well enough,

Their little foreheads bulged with concentration.

If they missed out on walking about like people

It wasn’t for any lack of mother-love.

O I cannot explain what happened to them!

They are proper in shape and number and every part.

They sit so nicely in the pickling fluid!

They smile and smile and smile at me.

And still the lungs won’t fill and the heart won’t start.

They are not pigs, they are not even fish,

Though they have a piggy and a fishy air —

It would be better if they were alive, and that’s what they were.

But they are dead, and their mother near dead with distraction,

And they stupidly stare and do not speak of her.