30 September 2009

Line by Line the Poem Comes Together


When I was seven or eight, I wanted drawing lessons. Both of my parents, art teachers, were not eager to pay for me to learn how to draw. My father said that he would teach me. He set to work helping me draw dinosaurs from illustrations in a book. These weren't children's drawings; they were adult renderings of dinosaur anatomy.

My father showed me that a drawing is made up of small lines that all work together to bring together a picture. He broke down some highly complex pictures, drawing a line or a squiggle and having me repeat it on my own page. I learned how to look at a detail, to mimic it and connect it to other small pieces. I didn't realize at the time how important this lesson would be for writing.

For several years, I wanted to be a painter. I viewed the world through a visual screen, always looking at how small pieces related to one another. When I turned to writing as my primary means of expression, I found that I wrote with my eye. Much of my work comes down to one clear image (or sensation) falling into another. In poetry, I use this technique to carry the reader through the narrative of the poem, one small line at a time.

There are moments in my own life when I remember the small lines I drew on that sheet of paper. A curve becomes the jaw of a long dead plesiosaur fighting another for a squid. The moon shines down on me and I remember the way a bend of light catches in a Fiesta ware bowel. There is no escaping the visual image in my writing or memory.

These small lines connect together, sometimes in startling ways, across decades to form a greater picture. They collect themselves in the pale shell of my skull and come out as words on a page and the thin veil of memory behind my eyes. Poetry and life are made of small lines.

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