I have been surrounded by paper and ink my entire life. A bibliophilic mother who passed the love on to me, a father who worked in a print shop whose hands always smelled of hot paper and fresh ink, a twenty-five year old book collection that currently numbers closer to 1,000 than 500, and journals everywhere.
I love journals. Beautifully made books full of blank pages and promise. I have never filled one of my journals, but my heart is in each one. The first pages of each of my journals are filled with words. Sometimes the words form poems, other times they become the prose I write that sounds more like poetry than an essay.
Sometimes the pages are just words. Lists of words in no particular order that I hope will one day become a poem. That is often how poetry happens for me. I feel the urge to write something that I have seen or heard or read, and I write the words that feel like the experience. Like a Rorschach test of sound and meaning, the words come to me, vowels singing and consonants dancing around and around each other until I hear a harmony, or an intentional dissonance, that says everything I feel. It’s like a beautiful audition. The list stops as I begin to feel the rhythm that I need, and then the page becomes a chopping block. Scribbled lines are crossed out, mutilated. Punctuation is trashed, dug out, brushed off, and trashed again. Articles are the hardest — take them out, put them back in, whittle them down smaller and smaller until the lines mean nothing (start again), or they mean everything.
In these moments I wish that there were a literary equivalent of the mathematical term, the inclusive or. It has all of the meaning of “or” and the meaning of “and” at the same time. How wonderful that word would be for poetry. This or this, but neither rules out the other. It’s always seemed ironic to me that this concept is an accepted rule in math, the most absolute sector of academia. Art is never simply black and white.