How do you start a poem?

I wonder if it might be fun to talk a little about process – beginning at the beginning, of course. How do you start a poem? Here are three perspectives:

Jack Gilbert: There’s no one way. Sometimes I’m walking along the street and I find it there. Sometimes it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Sometimes it’s an apparition.

Allen Ginsberg: It’s a feeling that begins somewhere in the pit of the stomach and rises up forward in the breast and then comes out through the mouth and ears, and comes forth a croon or a groan or a sigh. Which, if you put words to it by looking around and seeing and trying to describe what’s making you sigh—and sigh in words—you simply articulate what you’re feeling. As simple as that.

Nicholson Baker: I ask myself: What was the very best moment of your day?


4 thoughts on “How do you start a poem?

  1. Sometimes I’ll think up a line and just go from there; it’ll be an observation about a setting or situation, or just a general feeling. I like the point that Gilbert makes, however, of the billion different processes that could lead to a poem beginning, all of them truly begin by sitting down and writing the poem.

    • Thomas, you make an excellent point. One of the scariest – and truest – phrases that I carry with me is: writer’s write. I often go for long walks under the guise of “looking for poetry,” but really, I’m avoiding the hard work of actually writing.

  2. Almost all of mine begin with a specific phrase or word. It usually happens without warning – while driving, in the ad break while watching TV.. and for some reason, most often in the shower 🙂

    All the rest I tend to form around that initial nucleus once I sit down and start putting it to paper, as the previous commenter pointed out.

    • Inspiration also seems to find me at the most inconvenient times. I now keep a notebook by my bedside for those 3 AM bursts of inspiration. I also carry notebooks with me everywhere I go. There is a great pocket notebook made by “Rite in Rain” that I use. It’s waterproof, too. Thanks for your comment.

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