“The poet’s job is to find a name for everything; to be a fearless finder of the names of things; to be an advocate for the beauty of language, the subtleties of language.” ~ Jane Kenyon
In my last post I attempted to answer the question “Where do your poems come from?” by talking about prompts. Today I’d like to talk about names.
Because I see poetry as a unique responsibility I have in this life (my “job”), it is not optional for me. I cannot wait for the Muse to get off her lazy butt before I get down to the work of naming things. As Kenyon alludes, language is a beautiful and subtle thing. I feel drawn to advocating through poetry for words, the right words, to say a thing that must be said.
Language reflects and translates creation. And it is with this foundational belief that I approach the creative process. Naming, as in the Garden. Naming, so we can live in community, can see a thing together and have a common understanding. Naming, that we may live into these names.
My process for writing a poem is different every time. Yet, every time there is this element of naming things, of wanting to show what I see, to shape language to fit perfectly the moment. I wrote this poem after a walk back in April, and also in response to a NaPoWriMo prompt:
I ache to show the world what I see.
Rays of light cross the lapping waves where the mallard sits with his mate.
An empty pack of Pall Malls nests on the roadside among papery brown leaves.
The terrier’s greeting is bigger than his fiercely happy body.
This need to give the world back to itself exhausts me.
Do you see what I see?
It gets closer to this concept of naming, of my process and drive, than many of my other poems – I don’t try to write about writing in most of my poems. I just point and say, “Look. Over there. Do you see what I see?”
A part of picking the right name is picking the right container for the words. A haiku or haiga? A sonnet or villanelle? Free verse? Maybe after all that pondering, it turns out to not be a poem at all, but a blog post or the next chapter in my memoir.
Form matters. I try to read across many types of poetry, so I can keep these various containers in mind when I realize the need for more naming. There are poets I respect and admire greatly who stick closely to one form, go deep into it, even expand the concept in the writing community. I am not one of those. I am too greedy for choice in this naming. I’ve spent much time in short form (haiku, senryu, tanka) over the past few years as an extended discipline, to learn the craft more deeply. I desired the structure of a small container designed for capturing the infinite in a breath, a moment. It was also a conscious choice due to lack of mental bandwidth required for more complex and longer forms. But I don’t avoid longer and more structured poetry as a rule. Just for a season.
Forms matter because names matter. If I am too casual in my approach to a poem, I am letting down a language needing advocates that care about form, function, beauty, and subtlety.
Names matter to me because it’s my job as a poet to name the unnamed.