Sunday, December 17, 2006

Getting into the zone

Finding time to write is one obstacle. Finding my way into that rare creative space inside is another challenge. Some days, writing feels like exercise or like mowing the lawn. Other times, the ideas and images seem to flow. I've heard several good metaphors for this--divining, digging, going to the well, channeling. But how do you get there? How do you get into the zone?

Do you sit quietly? Do you take a walk, or ride a bike? Do yoga? Or do you read?

Years ago in a workshop, I met a woman who wrote her weekly workshop poem on Sunday. She would sit down with a stack of poetry books and read until around four in the afternoon. By then she was primed, ready to write.

I don't often read for a whole day, but I find that reading poetry—even just on the bus home from work--is for me the best route into the poetry zone. Any poetry—books, journals—poems on the bus--although some poetry opens me more swiftly and completely. And it doesn't have to be anything like the poetry that I might write, that I hope to write. In the early eighties, it was Ann Sexton. In the mid-eighties, it was Frank O'Hara. A few years ago, it was Olena Kalytiak Davis (And Her Soul out of Nothing). This last summer was the summer of Louise Gluck (Averno, The First Four Books of Poems). Closer to home, Judith Skillman (Heat Lightning) and Kathleen Flenniken (Famous). Right now, Lynda Hull (Collected Poems).

That's just the short list. If I stand in front of my bookcase for even a moment, titles leap out at me.

Every once in a while, I hear rumblings about a debate—is it better not to read the poetry of other people? Will it unduly influence your work? I reach for a book or head to the store (thank heavens for Open Books: A Poem Emporium).

What are you reading?

How do you get into the zone?

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