The first poet I ever knew, at college, was a very quiet fellow in person. Once, though, he happened to say to me, “I always start out trying to write a certain poem and end up writing a different one.”

I don’t know if I would say that about my own poems. I would say, though, that most of the time I start out by “going for the gold ring”—meaning that I try to say everything once and for all. Then, I end up getting off at a stop partway to my destination. This still feels quite liberating at the time, leaving me with a sense that I’ve said it. Or, at least, what I’ve said is infected with it enough to cause contagion among readers.

Such apparent grandiosity may be inevitable for a poet whose aspirations are spiritual. Until spiritual realization, every experience, no matter how ecstatic, has an end. One becomes himself again. Barring a new epiphany within the natural course of living, the experience of separateness sooner or later galvanizes the poet into a new effort to break free—or, in common parlance, the creation of a new poem (my own poems often arise from a journaling process that amounts to written meditation on spiritual matters of personal urgency).

I’m reminded now of a girl who went to the preschool where I teach. She was often one of the last children picked up from aftercare. She liked to pretend I was her daddy. She’d come up to me and say, “Daddy, can we go now?” I’d say, “Yes, honey, I’ll sign you out right away!” And then she’d say, “Daddy, can we do everything tonight?”

Someday, God willing, I’ll write that poem which says everything, or it will be written through me. Perhaps, though, if such a breakthrough ever comes, then in Hamlet’s words, “the rest is silence.” Meanwhile, incremental epiphanies and releases have me thinking of Issa’s famous haiku:

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

and of one of my own little poems:

Poetry is the trail
Of discarded wine bottles
A drunken man leaves behindAs he staggers toward the Sun.

Poets, can you relate to this desire to express all your thoughts within one poem (or for writers, within one piece)? Do your poems (or pieces) often turn out differently than you intended?


image 1: 2create (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND)