Poetry: Drinking from the Well

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Not Writing

A wasp rises to its papery
nest under the eaves
where it daubs

at the gray shape,
but seems unable
to enter its own house.

–Jane Kenyon

The other day, I spoke to good friend and writer, Janet Greene. She asked how my book was going. When she heard my lackluster reply, she dubbed it “writing fatigue.”

Saturday is usually a day when I dig deeply into my manuscript for three hours, editing it or coming up with new material. But after hosting a crowd for dinner in my kitchen, I was simply fagged out.

Rather than tackle my book, I worked on a poem that has been circling for days, trying to land.

In The Poet’s Companion (1997) Addonizio, K. & Laux, D. suggest that one writes poetry out of a sense of fullness. “While you’re full to overflowing you write poems until you’re empty, then you wait around while you get filled up again.”

(Jane Kenyon’s poem serves as an epigraph for Addonizio, K. & Laux, D.’s chapter on Writer’s Block. Brett Wright, Assoc. Ed., Bloomsbury Children’s Books pointed this out in his May 2014 talk to SCBWI members.)

This afternoon I had the opposite experience to the one the authors describe. I was so physically and mentally fatigued, that if I tried to dig into my book I knew I’d just spin my wheels in the dry dust of old ideas and tired-out phrases.

As I stared glassy-eyed across the room, I decided to work on an unfinished poem, instead.

Poetry for me is a primal source of inspiration. Poetry is a deep well of language, metaphor, and musical rhythms. It forms the basis of epic tales, lullabies, hymns, and the catchy refrains we hum when standing in line at the grocery store.

If I drink deeply from the well of poetry, I know my writerly self will be replenished.

This is what I came up with so far:

Magnolia Leaves

Magnolia leaves clatter
like salad plates
onto bluestone walkways.
Chipped and brown,
the wreckage piles up,
while we wait for spring.

Temperatures plummet.
Icicles smash from rooflines.

Winter is coming and Elizabeth
(our magnolia hybrid) shakes
her mustard yellow skirts,
bares her thin brown arms,
and folds her hands quietly.

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,
through twelve weeks of snow.

Her bowl-like blossoms
(butter yellow in April)
will unfold from tapered buds
the shape of paintbrushes,
each branch’s tip unfurling,
like velvet origami:
tender, triumphant.

She will gestate, patiently, coolly,
through twelve weeks of snow.

Picturing those massive yellow blooms
gives us strength to see another winter
through to its conclusion.

Temperatures plummet.
Icicles smash from rooflines.

In Buffalo, nine feet of snow just fell
over three days. Twelve people died—
frozen in cars, or crushed
under buckled roofs.
Whole nursing homes evacuated.

Picturing those massive yellow blooms
gives us strength to see another winter
through to its conclusion.

Not everyone will make it through to spring.
But I hope we do.

–Emily Damron-Cox

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What strategies do you use when you feel high and dry? Please post your comments, ideas, or feedback, below. I’d love to hear from you.

Emily Damron-Cox

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4 thoughts on “Poetry: Drinking from the Well

    • I appreciate your comment, Ieva. I’m sure you’re right. But for the last six days I was gestating warmly in southern climes. While it’s easier to think outside the buzz of the city, one becomes so relaxed that the drive to create kind of evaporates. I’m glad to return to my writing with fresh eyes.

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  1. Diane Voth

    The poem is lovely. I don’t call myself a writer, but I recognize the images and memories that give me the strength to “do winter”. Your poem gives me another picture for my bag of tricks – a velvety yellow magnolia blossom. Thank you!

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    • Diane, I love the idea of your having a bag of tricks full of images and memories that strengthen you to “do winter.” That this bag now contains a yellow magnolia blossom is the highest compliment I can think of.

      Like

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