The Poetry of Weeding

I enjoy weeding. I really enjoy it, the rhythm, the fresh air, the gentle physicality of kneeling on the ground and digging my fingers into the dirt, purposeful but not obsessive. It’s a good example of how humans are born gardeners: we distinguish little green growing bits from each other by sight, not scent; we have opinions about which ones we value and which should take their business elsewhere; and our opposable thumbs and index fingers are exactly suited for pinching the weeds out from among the tomatoes, leaving the tomato plants unharmed.

Weeding is also one of the most reliable things for me to do when I’m working on a poem and get stuck. Writing a blog post or essay, there’s always some part of it I can keep doing even if I’m not making progress on its substance. I can play with paragraph length, check straight-up grammar and punctuation, polish a sentence or two. Just keeping at it will yield results.

Not so for poetry. When I hit a sticking point while writing a poem, I have to stop and go do something completely unrelated for a while, something where I’m paying attention to actions but not thoughts. Weeding is a perfect activity for this. Right in the middle of it the solution for the poem will pop into my head. It’s like when you can’t remember where you put your car keys, and you rack your brain for a while, and then give up and go do something else. You are not thinking about your car keys at all, but suddenly it leaps to the front of your mind: this is where the car keys are. Clearly the wheels have been turning in your head. You haven’t planned this. You haven’t asked the weeds to help with the poem; you haven’t said okay, I’ll just leave my brain alone for a while and it will figure this out. Your brain did this for you as a gift, totally on its own. Or so it seems. Thank you, brain.

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