“Order doesn’t come by itself.”
~ Benoit Mandelbrot, Polish-French mathematician
Everything’s been feeling quite upside-down for me this month in general, from work to relationship to self-expression to body to everything else. Spring is a scattered kind of time when I think all our neurotransmitters get a little wonky, and we short-circuit without meaning to; it’s an instinctual thing. But when you’re trying to build comforting structures in your life, it becomes rather difficult in the chatter, which gets you worked up, which creates this awful feedback loop of grumbly chaos. Still, all things are grist for the mill when it comes to writing poetry, you know? Finding time for poetry is, if you’ve the drive to write it, like discovering another limb sticking out of your chest; first you have to accept it, then you have to learn to use it, then (in the same way as your other limbs) you allow muscle memory to do its work. The poems will write themselves, even if they’re a single word long, even if you’re not aware of it. You look down one day when birds are crapping on your head and cars are splashing you with mud, and there’s some perfect name for what you’re feeling. That’s poetry, too.
And of course, the nature of chaos itself can be a theme or motif to explore a bit. Think of those parts of a river that are made up of rapids and rocky rills, where the water becomes shallow — you can see right through to the bottom — but what’s exposed is both exhilarating and threatening. (If you haven’t noticed yet, we’re moving a bit further away from basic gleaning-inspiration into emotional-projection this week.) Maybe I’m wrong, and not everyone is feeling as messy as I am this week; things might be perfectly sedate and stable for you. That means this prompt might in fact be a bit tougher for you. (We’ll do mill ponds another day.) Today’s challenge is to get into a messy, unhinged headspace, not so much that it’s bad for your mental health, but the kind of disorganization that breeds honest thoughts: all the little derivative ideas, worries, and fixations riding a tide of foam.
This is going to be a free-write heavy kind of day, because that tends to be the style that brings out the most random and transcendental moments. Start, as we have started repeatedly this month, with some thought, image, or notion that’s occurred to you, which you haven’t yet used in a poem for April: the flotsam coming downstream, ready to be caught in the rock-rumpled current. If you haven’t been following along, or need a fresh rivulet of water to infuse the flow, feel free to look around the room, surf the Net, or do whatever for ten minutes to just get a bunch of random words and things in the hopper. Yesterday, the free-write was a chain of associations; today, I want you to get even freer. Go by sound symbolism as much as association: if you start with apple, you might get trap, frappé, happiness alongside pie, Eden, and my second grade teacher. You can use seed words like this, but allow whatever is hovering in the back of your consciousness to peek through as well: if you’re depressed, that apple might become rotten or wormy. If you’re in love, it might take on beautiful specifics (green breaking into red; Golden Delicious) or mythology (for the fairest). Try this on an unlined sheet of paper and write these words all over the page in a happy chaos.
Once you’ve well-covered that page, make leaps from place to place, following the lines that seem most beautiful or natural to you, without paying attention to the words. Then, once you have a few lines, look at the random chains of association that you’ve created, and think about how to weave them into a poem. Try to have at least two together: each line will itself be a challenge of balance, and then netting them together will be a further challenge. (Have you ever tried to stand upright on the stones in a rushing stream? Yikes.) But allow the poem to be messy, yet true: you can revise, tweak, crop, expand later. For now, we are primarily concerned with smashing things together in the poetic supercollider, and discovering what particles result. (I know, I’m switching metaphors faster than even I can follow.) Come back and let us know what you discover in the bubbling maelstrom, and what truth can be found in disorder.