Sheer Force of Will

Sheer force of will. That’s how my poems are written, mostly. Other writing flows from my mind, my heart, my pen. But poetry? Not so much. Not at all, really. We are in a constant, pitched battle. And they show up on the page, sometimes scarred and ashen, sometimes sullen, sometimes breathing a heavy sigh of relief to finally have me off their backs.

Okay, that’s not always true, right? Sometimes — when I’ve chosen a form for April that doesn’t kick my butt every single day — the words can fall together as if I actually have an idea.

I said all that to say this: my poems have been heavy so far this month, heavier than I intended, heavier than I imagined they’d be. Tonight I tried to force things another way … and the poem reminded me that that’s not at all how this works. It doesn’t go where I want. My role is to follow it, pen and steno pad in hand, taking rapid dictation. If I could ever learn that, there’s no telling what I could do.

I don’t know what tonight’s poem is. It isn’t what I thought I was writing, and it doesn’t seem to have resolved itself yet into whatever it was pushing back against me in order to become. But I’m tired. So I’m going to post it in it’s half-way state and put myself to bed.

The lines I used for tonight’s poem are from Lucille Clifton’s “eve thinking.” I was drawn by her opening line, “it is wild country here.” It reminded me of a writing activity I did once, many years ago, with a group of rowdy and adorable 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders. The kids were writing and drawing poems about what was wild in them, about who their wild selves were. I aspire, still, to the pure abandon those little ones shared on the page.


My tongue is new and it
hurts still. It is
surprising, sudden, wild --
a far country.
Far, and right here.
No need to go searching, 
digging under rocks for
signs, for language --
it's mine to 
sing, to laugh, to call
every secret name ever given to me.

And, at the end, I
do as I will.
Always. I stretch, whisper
truths into
being. Into his
ear, into yours. Ground out of my mouth,
wrapped in my tongue, wrapped in our
hands, calling the gods by their first names.

National Poetry Month 2021: the Golden Shovel

As I’ve done for the last forever, I’ve chosen a poetic form, and I’m going to try to write a poem in that form every day for the month of April. I don’t always succeed, but I always give it my best shot. The “Golden Shovel” was created by Terrance Hayes in tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks. I learned about it from my friend Sonia (aka Red Emma). I’ll be using Lucille Clifton’s poems as my starting point this month. Here are the rules:

  • Take a line (or lines) from a poem you admire.
  • Use each word in the line (or lines) as the end word for each line in your poem.
  • Keep the end words in order.
  • Give credit to the poet who originally wrote the line (or lines).
  • The new poem does not have to be about the same subject as the poem that offers the end words.

If you pull a line with six words, your poem would be six lines long. If you pull a stanza with 24 words, your poem would be 24 lines long. And so on.

Should be interesting!

4 thoughts on “Sheer Force of Will

  1. “My role is to follow it, pen and steno pad in hand, taking rapid dictation.” Your life will be SO much easier when you accept Muse is in control. Your just filing the incident report.

    I enamored by the daring, the challenge of :
    “Ground out of my mouth,
    wrapped in my tongue, wrapped in our
    hands, calling the gods by their first names”

    I am minded of a- what grandmas would do to our disrespectful tails, actin’ like we grown or sum’in’, and b- the even divine Ms. Badu šŸŽµ most intellects do not believe in God, but…šŸŽ¶

    You worked it as much as it worked you, and it worked out.


    1. Thanks, Rai. I was once accused — by the super-famous writer whose workshop I was in — of being a control freak with my characters. I denied it in true she-doth-protest-too-loudly fashion. It’s an issue I’ve been working on. Still a ways to go, especially in poetry.


  2. Lainie Levin

    Interesting – for me, poetry is my more natural mode of expression, and it’s Story (in written form) that holds me in a stand-off. I identify with and appreciate the idea, too, that even if we try and nudge our writing towards one direction, it still surprises us, and brings us to where IT wants us to go…

    I also like what Raivenne said – we relinquish control, and we’re “just filing the incident report.”


    1. I love how one form clicks for one person and not another. When people see me knitting, some will say how knitting is so hard, so they crochet instead. For me, crochet is so hard … we all connect in the ways that make sense for us. And yes, Rai is right about those incident reports! šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

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