Where do poems come from?

sambuca copy

This morning, checking my emails, feeling guilty about not writing, feeling anxious about not having anything to write about, suddenly, starlings descended, all at once and on the same tree, the black elder, Sambuca Black Lace, its leaves thinned by the cold and the wind, its berries black and ripe and taut as eyes, and the starlings hit it with their bodies and pecked as though it were alive, a baited thing, and berries were grabbed and swallowed and berries fell on the stone flags where more starlings jostled and snatched and I’d been at such a loss to begin anything and using the emails as an excuse that when the starlings came I rushed for my camera with the intention of photographing them for my blog, though when I approached the patio doors I startled them and they grabbed their things and ran, but it was a moment of clarity, when time slows and you’re pulled into something which is not your life, as though you’ve left yourself, stepped out of the shoes that were holding you down and escaped for a moment, passing into a more heightened and receptive state where you can observe things, even though they are small and probably insignificant to others, but somehow you understand that they are of more value to you than events in your ‘real’ life, so you allow yourself to be there, in this new world, knowing it won’t last, that you’ll have to go back, but hopefully something will stay with you, a gleaming eye, a scattering of black berries, the intention to capture it, to set it down, perhaps make art from it, not just to record it but to process it. You’ll see the starlings as a marauding gang, a posse, a raiding party, except these are cliches so you’ll have to do some work to (re)imagine the things you’ve seen, to do it differently to all the other imaginers who have gone before you; you’ll have to push yourself out of safe mode and into territory that is wild and uncomfortable. The berries will be black sapphires or beads of jet from a broken Victorian necklace, and the birds are Quakers breaking their silence to stand up and talk about God and if you’re writing towards a poem it might eventually sidestep the berries and the starlings completely and be about the omelette you had for tea last night, but you will have created something and that in itself will be your reward.


4 thoughts on “Where do poems come from?

  1. What you’ve done here is rather splendid, and will find its way into a blog post I’m planning on the business of being stalled and the moments that draw you in. And the other thing. You remind me how poems can do so many things that a photograph can’t, not lease the business of being processed linearly, in time, so it’s absorbed and revealed in a completely different way. I hope you don’t mind if I quote a big chunk of this. I seem to be heavily into metablogging at the moment. Intertextual me. xxxxx


    • Thanks so much for this John. By all means quote anything that you think is useful. I’m just starting to think seriously about poems again after the long haul of prose over the summer (the draft of the novel is locked away until I feel I have enough time and energy to do the next stage – prune, rewrite, burn it on a pyre, whatever … ). I suspect that, as writers, we don’t really want to understand too much about where poems come from but as ‘writing practitioners’ we feel we should know!
      Thanks, as always, for taking an interest – and sorry to have been off the radar for a while! Julie X


  2. found my way here via dave bonta’s poetry blog digest & love this post. you’ve really captured how we leave & re-enter different worlds & what sticks with us from one to the next!


    • Hi Carolee,
      Glad you like the blog post. It was a strange moment in time that really felt like it had a wider significance. I’ve always been interested in the process of writing as well as the finished piece. I suspect that there are a million answers to the question of where poems come from – mine is just one small contribution to the debate.
      I love Dave Bonta’s haiku by the way, and the accompanying films he’s made. His redactions are brilliant too.
      Julie X


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