It’s not all that original to say that being a poet is like being a magpie or another animal who hoards shiny objects.
I chase my fancy, more or less. I make a pile. Faithfully. Polaroid. Covered wagon. I like how you work quickly. Mood ring. Trillium. What is trillium again? So I look it up.
Pleasing words sound good but there’s more to it than that. Maybe I think boyfriend. Maybe I think paperwhite. Maybe I think video. These evoke settings, situations, relationships, time periods, memories, ages, ghosts, presidents, colors, emotions, sensations. My favorite is when words evoke different things and then those different things collide. Juxtaposing dictions that connote varying discourses can simulate texture. It creates discord, and discord is scary and fun.
I’m synesthetic, so for me each letter strongly evokes a specific color. That might be why I’m obsessed by the letters l, p, and s and any combination thereof. Lapse. Pulse. Slip. Split. Please. Lisp. Spool. I’m obsessed by weather, seasons, and times of year. Because my brain over-associates. Because my brain is into colors, vibes, moods. You know.
To speak generally, my moods are clear but my situations are not clear. I don’t know at the outset who is speaking the poem, who they are speaking to, and where it all takes place. It’s not all that original to emphasize the importance of the subconscious in writing poetry. “The words know” or something like that, like the poem is dictating its own way forward. Moods and connotations can help discover specifics: lovelorn, western United States, summer midnight, happy for no reason, prom date, a friendship that feels like a crime. The poem whose situation is discovered, rather than imposed, is what I’m going for.
A list is the most fun thing to write. Making each item more outrageous than the last. It’s the opportunity to draw every discordant element in the poem into suffocating proximity.
My most helpful trick is to think: the key to everything I will write is in what I’ve already written. The title for the new poem is in the poem that came before it. I can zoom in on any line, any word, and discover a cache of feelings and associations and history that is worth making something out of. Each moment is a matryoshka doll, proliferating inside itself, containing so much material. That’s what makes the poem such an exciting domain: there’s a whole world in there, a zillion more poems.