Six contemporary poets share the process behind their poems.
By Eduardo C. Corral
This is a draft of my poem “Ceremonial,” which I wrote in 2012. Revision is my favorite part of writing. Revision helps me envision other possibilities for the language on the page. I know a poem is done when I can identify three distinct pleasures: linguistic, emotional and intellectual. I wanted to privilege emotional pleasure in this poem, though. The annotations reflect that desire.
Eduardo C. Corral’s debut collection of poems, “Slow Lightning,” won the Yale Younger Poets prize in 2011.
By Billy Collins
I wrote the first draft of “Duck Blind” on the Amtrak train that runs along the Hudson River from Albany to New York City after spotting, well, a duck blind by the low water at the edge of the river. In writing it, I was nudged along by a Kay Ryan poem titled “Dogleg,” but it would be hard for me to say just how.
Billy Collins served two terms as the United States poet laureate, from 2001 to 2003. His most recent collection, “The Rain in Portugal,” was a New York Times best seller.
By Jenny Zhang
Daddy issues have been coming up a lot lately for us, as a nation. I’m surely not the only one to notice we employ metaphors to make sense of the news. I always like to take note of who hides their origins and who shows them off. How do we form a coalition of resistance without obliterating our differences? Not all lives matter and we are not all the same immigrants. Rage can be so common it turns ambient. I’m drawn to the figure of the ungrateful subaltern as a trope in literature. In real life, it is often dangerous to demand more. While writing this poem, I indulged my pettiness, and in revising, I did my best to pull back.
Jenny Zhang is the author of the chapbook “Hags” and the poetry collection “Dear Jenny, We Are All Find.” Her debut story collection, “Sour Heart,” has just been published.
By Marie Howe
A poem has its own body — it comes into the world and I feel most often like a midwife. And a poem has an unsayable center around which its body grows. The first draft had one or two or three things going on (too talky) but hadn’t found its organic heart, its unsayable necessity. A friend suggested starting with the statement “the failure of love…” Then the map appeared and in the space between the two (the statement and the experience) the poem appeared.
Marie Howe’s fourth collection of poetry, “Magdalene,” was published in March.
“Exile and Lightning”
By Robert Pinsky
“Exile and Lightning” is the only poem of mine published on the CNN Opinion website, headlined “An Inaugural Poem of Protest.” PEN and Writers Resist had asked Rita Dove and me to compose poems for the January 15 “Protest Inauguration” on the steps of the New York Public Library. This is “draft 8” of 25 numbered drafts. The poem became a bit shorter, more direct, I hope swifter. With this version, I got the title (it’s circled). The sketch of a floor lamp reflects my habit: crude little drawings of stuff around me where I’m writing. Sometimes of the pen.
Robert Pinsky was the United States poet laureate from 1997 to 2000. His latest book of poems, “At the Foundling Hospital,” was published last year.
“Portrait as Self-Portrait”
By Mary Jo Bang
In a photographic portrait, we sometimes forget the maker exists, but how she frames her subject determines what you, the viewer, will see. In that way, the portrait is of two people, the subject and the maker. I was thinking of a photograph of László Moholy-Nagy taken by his first wife, Lucia Moholy. In that image, we see a man playfully putting out his hand toward the lens — he might be pushing the camera away (“don’t take me”), or he might be reaching out to touch the photographer (“let me take you”). That ambiguity gets written into the poem. As does the fact that the marriage eventually ended.
Mary Jo Bang won a National Book Critics Circle Award for her collection “Elegy.” Her eighth book of poems, “A Doll for Throwing,” will be published this month.