How Quiet Drives Good Poetry

Last night, after I thought everyone had gone to bed, I was working on editing a poem’s title, which I knew was simply not right. It was too simplistic, explicit and redundant with the poem’s text. I had jotted down a few ideas and was in the middle of this process when my son walked in and started talking about a tennis racket he was researching. And you guessed it, whatever breakthrough I was about to make on that title was gone.

Writing poetry begs for a deep quiet. This is a quiet that pertains to the mind more than the sounds around us, although silences help. Poetry is deep observation and contemplation and rumination, and letting disparate ideas blunder about the quiet spaces to see how they interact.

William Stafford in an interview with David Elliott in his book of conversations, At Home in the Dark, said, “…for me the experience of finding the way in writing is one of sensitivity, listening, glimpsing, going forward by means of little signals, and those little signals are available in conditions of quiet, lack of turbulence, and conditions that are non-confrontational….I think that one finds one’s way of with a sensibility that requires an attitude other than loudness or aggression.”

Stafford’s extension of this idea to being the antithesis of loudness and aggression certainly resonated with me. Poetry, in the way Stafford means and in the way I most appreciate it, is the opposite of this brash, angry grandstanding of cultish politics.

There is a certain level of sorcery to poetry writing that goes beyond thoughtfulness. There is this idea of being quietly open and receptive to what the world and the words want to say.

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