Peter Notehelfer is a thoughtful poet I enjoy reading. He writes frequently on the “Poet’s Corner” and on his blog “Gathering Stones Strung on Threads” at http://notehelfer.wordpress.com.
Peter has nominated me to participate in what’s known as a Blog Tour, a means of sharing thoughts with the WordPress community about why we blog poets do what we do here.
The process of participation seems simple: answer just four questions. Having given it consideration, I quickly realized the apparent simplicity is deceptive. Nonetheless, I decided “What the hell?” and “Why not?”
1. Why do I write what I do?
The oft told story in my family is how my mother taught me to read during my toilet training, using the labels of Ajax cleanser cans, Ivory Snow boxes, and bars of Octagon soap. Strangely enough, the story is true, and I’ve been reading voraciously ever since.
My deep affinity for words and the intricate character of language has given me immeasurable joy throughout every stage of my life, and in that joy has always stirred the desire to write. In my career, I had the good fortune to write extensively on matters of business, but there remained an insistent urge for more creative expression.
Upon retirement ten years ago, when I relocated to the rural splendors of New Hampshire, I finally found the opportunity to indulge that desire. After a number of unsatisfying forays into fiction and essays, it was poetry that surprisingly won my heart and stoked my mind. Surprising because in more than sixty years leading up to that point, I hadn’t written more than a few dozen poems, and most of those were in college.
Nor had I read much poetry beyond a few favorites like Wordsworth, Rilke and Frost. Perhaps because I acquired physical disability, poetry, and free verse in particular, became a suitable satisfying outlet for expression of my thoughts and ideas, my plaints and my frustrations; a homespun therapeutic regimen, if you will.
And here I am, some two thousand poems and eight books later, still at it, still learning, still enjoying the experience.
Readers of my blog will note that many of my pieces are after the style of haiku, senryu and tanka. I find great pleasure in striving to meet the challenging discipline of these classical oriental forms, not unlike my lifelong passion for crossword puzzles.
2. How does my writing process work?
It’s difficult to think of my writing as a process because it is much more organic than that, and rather spontaneous to boot.
In almost every case, my poems begin with an idea, usually an interesting word or phrase that comes to mind. These ideas sometimes arise from the one aspect of my “process” that is somewhat mechanical, namely the brief notes I jot down upon waking from a dream and while reading.
These notes invariably correspond to the ever-present question “What might I do (poetically) with that?” For example, I wrote a poem the other day called “The Crowd is Untruth.” It developed from a phrase I jotted down (‘human herd’) while reading an internet article about endemic soccer crowd violence around the world. That brought to mind my university study of the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard, and the poem fairly wrote itself. The title is actually one of Kierkegaard’s seminal postulates.
One more mechanistic point worth making: I use my blog as a convenient way of putting each poem to bed. My natural tendency is to edit and rewrite every single time I re-read what I wrote. No matter if it’s the hundredth time, I’m compelled to alter something. By posting it to the blog as soon as it’s finished, I convince myself that it is indeed done, and I can move on.
For a stronger sense of the organic nature of my writing, I recommend reading the essay on my blog titled “Biology of Poetry.”
3. How does my work differ from other genres?
I’m no student of forms or genres. And I’m not all that fond of classifying art, whose expression seems to me a highly individualist endeavor.
With that in mind, all I can say here is that my poetry is as different from other literature as I am from other authors. My poetry and yours are each rather unique.
I take both care and pride in reflecting through my poems what I know and believe, what I think and feel, what I remember and dream. We all do that, don’t we?
It is this deeply personal character of poetry that makes it impossible for me to compare mine (or yours) to any others. Every writer lives and dies by two reckonings: how well the work appeals to themselves, and how it may appeal to readers. Without success of the former, the latter seems meaningless.
4. What am I working on at the moment?
I’m still learning to live life; still adjusting to this remarkably challenging final chapter that bears surprisingly little resemblance to all those that preceded it.
Part of that adjustment gave birth to this blog, which I continue to work at daily.
I still read the philosophers, theologians and scientists, always looking for clues to a more perfectible character; a more ideal practice of moral conduct.
And in the process, I am now compiling what will eventually become my ninth book of poetry. These books constitute my most heartfelt legacy for my dear bride of forty-six years, my three children, and my eleven grandchildren.
Well, that pretty much concludes this Blog Tour.
My nominees to carry the Blog Tour forward, poets whose writing inspires me and whom I would encourage to take part and share their story as well are:
Thanks for reading. Thanks for writing.
Paul F. Lenzi