Though all kinds of lines and phrases for poems will occur to me while I’m working in the garden, I can’t do much with them until I write them down. I need the feedback of seeing the letters on the page. For prose – like the text of this post – the keyboard and computer screen fill that requirement perfectly. But for poems I must have pen and paper. This is not so much a mystical connection with ancient methods of communication as it is a matter of topography. What starts out as a line of a poem will inevitably develop branches, arrows, circles, and various degrees of cross-outs that must nevertheless remain legible for future reference. If you looked over my shoulder (but I never let anyone look over my shoulder so early in a poem’s life), you would see a rather smudgy doodle. Every doodly smudge of it carries information for me.
When I write a poem I spend a lot of time mentally flexing it in and out: how does it feel from this angle? What if I look at it this way? Does it look inward, or outward? What does it see, and what does it show? What about the line breaks? What would happen to them if I read this aloud? Words have undertones and overtones – do I want the ones that are sneaking in here? Can I nudge them in another direction? While I am writing this, can I picture you reading it? And should I be writing, like this, about poems, or should I be reading and writing poems themselves? Is this like looking at seed catalogs instead of weeding the garden? Any number of gardening metaphors could certainly apply. Or, I could go outside, and think about whether I’m weeding the garden to put off working on a poem, or working on a poem to put off weeding the garden.