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How One Writer Avoids Writer’s Block | A Poem by Donal Mahoney

After writing nothing for 35 years, I returned to writing in 2008,
concentrating on poetry and then branching out into fiction and
nonfiction. The long hiatus was caused, I rationalized, by demanding jobs, mostly as an editor of other people’s copy. Work left me without interest or energy to work on my own writing.

But when I retired my wife bought me a computer and showed me where in the basement my cardboard boxes full of unfinished poems had been lying dusty in storage all those years. More importantly, she later told me, in a kind way, that reading a poem of mine was often like “looking through a kaleidoscope while listening to harpsichord.”

That phrase became embedded in my mind so I had to write something to go with it. It was a poem called “Kaleidoscope and Harpsichord,”
since published.

When I hear a phrase or word I like, I often write something ahead of it, around it and after it. I try to give it a home in a poem, story or essay. Perhaps it’s a prompt, as some poetry editors might call it, although I have never thought of it that way.

I worked that way back in the 1960s when I first started writing
before employment and family obligations interrupted me. As a student, I would jot a phrase or word on a napkin in some midnight diner and put it in my pocket. Weeks later I’d find it and I’d start writing a piece around the phrase or word. I doubt that many writers work this way. But it’s always been that way for me.

I never know where a phrase or word will lead me and sometimes that’s fun but other times it can be difficult. But once I get a poem or story going, I forget about the phrase or word that inseminated it and care only about finishing the piece.

Let me offer an example. Once I told my wife to take me to a
taxidermist when I die because that’s where I wanted to go instead of to the local mortician. I told her that in semi-jest, of course, but “take me to the taxidermist” wouldn’t leave my mind. Finally it
led to a poem of sorts. For better or worse, it may serve as an
example of how one writer has always avoided writer’s block.

 

Take Me to the Taxidermist

I told my wife the other night
when she came back to bed
my feet were cold so now’s
the time for me to tell her
not to bury me or burn me
or give my body to science.

Take me to the taxidermist
and have him dress me in
Cary Grant’s tuxedo, a pair
of paten leather shoes
from Fred Astaire and a
straw hat from Chevalier.

Once I’m a Hollywood star,
stand me in the garden with
that chorus line of blondes,
brunettes and redheads
I stationed there the day she
flew home to Mother in a snit.

Years later now, my dancers still
kick high enough to lance the sun.
I plan to hold a last rehearsal
once my wife motors into town
and finds a priest who’ll say
a thousand Masses for my soul.

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