Hello poets and readers,
One of the first pieces of writing I remember reading about process is Amy Lowell’s essay ‘The Process of Making Poetry’ (from a book originally published in 1930). Lowell was an early shaker in the Imagist movement, and experimented with lineation and what we now call prose poetry. She also wrote haiku and is anthologised in the recent Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years.
In discussing her own writing process, she initially admits to knowing little about it, celebrating its mystery whilst also stating that it is not daydreaming (in contrast with Freud’s idea that it was very like daydreaming and an extension of childhood play). To Lowell, it is some other very particular psychic state. She reaches to metaphor to describe a poet being like a radio aerial, receiving all sorts of signals and able to turn them into the message that is the poem. It’s interesting how often poets create metaphor to explain tricky stages in the writing process. Melinda Smith did this in her interview with me recently in extending Virginia Woolf’s image of the fishing line playing out and out, saying that only when you’ve landed all the fish do you know what you have, and only then can you contextualise it in terms of other poets and your own works.
The idea of the subconscious is important to Lowell (the term ‘unconscious’ is now more widely used, I’ll stick with her term). She talks about dropping a subject for a poem into the subconscious and waiting for the words to come. Similarly, Melinda Smith speaks of having to get strange things out of the subconscious, and that some time spent in nature helps activate it. For Lowell, poets are people who have “a non-resistant consciousness” (1972, 201), with no subject being alien. And she doesn’t fear the empty page: “It seems as though the simple gazing at a piece of blank paper hypnotized me into an awareness of the subconscious.” (Lowell, 202)
A while ago, I wrote an essay about Lowell’s ideas on the subconscious and how they might relate to assemblage theory. I also apply these ideas to Sylvia Plath’s writing process and the way she re-purposes biography in moving from her notebook account of visiting beekeeper Charlie Pollard to the creation of her poem ‘The Bee Meeting’ (published in Axon, see here to explore further). And I’d be delighted if you shared ideas in the comments box about your own experience of the relationship between the subconscious and the process of writing poetry.
Lowell, Amy 1972  ‘The process of making poetry’, in G Perkins (ed) American Poetic Theory, New York: Holt, Reinhardt & Winston, 200-203