Yelling back

"I have few to no patterns, and even less dogma about how to write, or how I write. Poetry tends to come to me naturally or not at all. I spent years trying out different exercises and forms like most everyone, but the truth is that I don’t do that anymore. It may sound mystical or retro or simply depressing, but I increasingly feel myself to be a hostage to poetic impulse. I usually have to wait until a poem comes along, or until I see what’s there to be written, as Robert Creeley once put it. For me a poem often begins as a constellation of words coursing through my head like little electric shocks. This often happens when I’m in great pain or pleasure, doing laps in a pool, or in the bardo between sleeping and waking. I don’t know why. The words feel like irritants in the soft lap of an oyster, as Henry James had it. Then the pearl — if one could call it that with a straight face — starts to congeal around the irritant. A snowball in the muck.

As for non-poetry projects, that’s a different story. Usually I do a lot of reading or research until something takes possession of me. I think of research like throwing lots of crap in a cauldron — bones, feathers, blood, everything — and turning up the heat: eventually it has to come to a boil. (Whether you make something edible is a different question.) Or, let me put it this way: Often a baby in a subway station will scream back at a loud train hurtling through. If you send a train of information hurtling through your brain often and fast enough, and if the train screeches loudly enough, you may eventually find yourself yelling back."

—Maggie Nelson, author of (many things including) Bluets, a treatise on the color blue, a defiance of genre, a mindfuck of a little volume and my week's literary delight.