Where does poetry come from?

This may seem like a silly question: poets write poetry. But there happen to be different philosophical perspectives about the source of poetry. One idea proposed (and embodied) by William Blake is that poetry is “dictation” from an outside source. Later (in the 1950’s and 60’s) poet Jack Spicer elaborated upon this idea in the following excerpt from his Vancouver Letters:

I think that the first kind of hint that one has as a poet, after having written poems for a while and struggled with them, a poem comes through in just about one-eighth the time that the poem usually does and you say “Well, gee, it’s going to be much easier if I can just have this happen very often.” And so then you write 17 or 18 different things which are just what you are thinking about at the particular moment and are lousy. It isn’t simply the matter of getting a fast take. Its something else. But the fast take is a good sign that you’re hooked up to some source of power, some source of energy.[1965]

I gather from Spicer a reverence for an unkown outside source from where he received “energy”, and at energized times the poetry flows unhindered. I think we’re back to the question of inspiration (and, for poets, it behooves us to wonder where inspiration comes from). Inspiration may feel like an outside entity. I feel cautious about placing my hopes on an outisde, objectified entity, because it places me at the mercy or whim of this outside force. Or, if I make a mistake and am not reverent enough . . . what then?

I do believe that as an artist or poet you learn more and more every day about the circumstances, states of mind, and general state of physiological comfort (or discomfort) during which the work flows. And ultimately, it comes down to doing the work. The more time you put in, the more likely you will have work you like, and the more naturally the work flows.

I take a point from Jack Spicer’s reflection on dictation about “hooking up to a source of energy”–I consider this source to be partly the energy that naturally exists in the universe (which is abundant and continually at work on us whether we know it) and partly energy that we free up within ourselves, however we find a way to do it.

For me, sticking to a routine in my daily life is helpful. Yoga in the morning, running in the woods on the weekends. Painting helps the poetry, poetry feeds the painting. Lots and lots of omnivorous reading, listening to Great Lectures series on a variety of topics during my commute. Peace and quiet when not at work (as much as possible). As much as possible to slow down, and become more aware of my surroundings, with a childlike sense of curiosity and wonder. The childlike sense of wonder is essential, and even subversive.






incubate words in a bird’s

heart, where O

a discourse marker,

O of recognition,

round and flexible,

to shape a nest,

to live


black-red blood of the plum,

ephemeral, contained

by thin skin


an eternal child



makes gesturing hands


motor skills

to carry and crack

an egg


plum, your limb

is my limb, contin

ues more limbs, two

of us drawn upward

as go and wend merge to



undulates vocables of Ur names,

now live on the slate, a trader’s



sealed into clay,

opened only


the voice


borrowed language

borrowed language


a glimpse from the week’s



commute sentences

under dusk cloud’s



we’ve lost some words

while we prepare for saturdays’ sleep—


welkin, wellaway,

where- and forthwith


between breaths, unsaid


we know future

as “up”, due to

heightened field

in which objects

we approach



while we half-talk half-

eat at the table,

the light outside changes—

honeyed light rises

through the roots of grass blades, up

through the trunks of weed

trees, and in distant heights,

the orchard’s unripe fruit



an evolution among words

displace above our heads,

move at their own will,

seek rogue poems

Fathom line

Fathom line


sounding line with fathom points

in areas of known depth


or, off soundings,

interpret as:



a sinuous line connects all points

similar, thus the contours

wide enough

to encircle

with extended arms


this morning is other mornings

while singular as to be never lived again


can it be that two people in a photograph

ascend into ruins and look around—

at an extent, outside limits familiar

with no way to lift even one of the stones

that form the arc overhead, hears a voice

skip surface across gray walls

having yet to seep down


that rows of faces on the bus are vibrations

in glance and gesture, repeat

all the way, long after destination,

with plastic sacks of fruit,

and handmade purse in rainbow

hues, as tribute at the feet

of correlation


vegetal cognition turns away

from a cobbled city where alas,

trinkets fall into the palm as bound

morphemes, as in pre-

un- ness-and -y, and cannot

stand alone as a known


and in an alley, an anonymous

dog barks repeat, laying claim

to this territory


where, within the lines, the same word

means to attach and to sever;

as a seine net gathers

every object spanning yes

and no


the sound of light in waves

as the dark part of the morning



re-emerges as ululation

between source

and surface

Captured in a jar

Ball Jar Art–new territory. In preparation for a gallery opening at the professional art gallery on site at the school where I work, I am working on the following art piece. It is a Ball jar containing a bird’s nest and studio ephemera, including materials such as sandpaper and wire, photographic negatives, chalk, etc., accompanied by a poem attached in a self-enclosed envelope secured with wire closure.

The limitations of this project included the narrow width of the jar mouth, as well as the distortion of the glass (if you look at a Ball jar you’ll see raised texture areas to signify measurements, as well as the word “Ball” across the front). While photographing the piece I grew to appreciate the distortions and limitations, as well as recognize that it may not be completely finished yet . . .





Much like this poem

Much like this poem


a child speaks in projective whisper

learned lessons from the clouds—


whereas, in high desert, projection laws

do not apply


blades of grass imply distinct edges;

to sever an edge is true

when held in memory


childhoods rove in waves—broken

toys and plastic chairs surface in the sand;

storybook territories continue to expand



unfinished lines hang there, threads

a line of thought paper thin, as a vacant

lot of known flowers in context

of what we don’t know


some lines calcify, locked in strata

where we put them and fill in sand

and sleep


when they find us

here, they’ll replace themselves

into the hollows left by these bones






opens hues only known

in passing—


the mind precedes

and follows by long



reach in, the image

swirls in displacement—

as known principle

that forms the earth,

her fragment moons

so ejected


leave aperture open and you’ll see

what they mean this is only

one phase of the question


sound- and scent-

triggers: bullfrog brooding

in the ditch, creaks the branch

against the trunk in the wind


our continuous kin, opens all windows

and screens thus replaced—


winds through gallery of all remnants

now displaced


weaves meaning, a unit

untethered from perception—

often the scale is wrong the words

wrong, but kinesthetic impulse,

auto correct


I’m telling you, I didn’t hear

what you heard. Song bird’s opteryx

lineage. Aquifers’

abduction. A honey bee

dies inside a flower. All

is meanwhile—


I fear I have no reason

to return, to intercept

of perception

and words