By the time I have set myself to begin writing, I am hours or days into the process of receding from the order of the physical world. I am forgetting my body and the trails of thought that net it together so that I might focus, or do the work of condensation, for the poem. I don’t have a schedule for writing, or periods of time made regular in my life habits. I have intention, spun from an idea or sense of window into language, and I must wait until my feeling catches up, matches it, so that the two might begin a conversation or fusion from that point of critical context, contact. It is a kind of internalization, but one already derived from interiority. So: no typical writing day for me, but there is yet a process requiring a number of calibrations, and patience. I’ll become aware of the next day I have a day of no, or very few, outside obligations. I might begin winnowing obligations away, get extra groceries, coffee, wine, take my dog on longer walks. I will spend time before sleep, and sometimes in deep sleep, working the feeling, finding the point of convergence, testing out words to suit. Nonverbally. I wait for night, or if not night, then earliest morning. And then I enter a kind of space of meditative agitation. The poem might have been formless forming for perhaps months.
It is important that there might be a few commonalities: first, I must be alone. Easy enough as my partner lives, for the time being, in England. Only a few times has the need to write a poem arisen while we’ve been under the same roof, and I have managed—but it must be said that I must feel like I am operating in total secrecy, unseen. My dog, Tilly, sighing nearby or huddled furtively on the bed is my tether to the material world. Once I have settled these matters of material neutrality—pouring a cup of coffee, taking up sometimes seven critical minutes of my writing threshold—I go to the desk. I assemble the necessary supplemental books to begin reviewing and reminding myself of language’s potentials: most often it will be Susan Howe, Lorine Niedecker, C.D. Wright. Sometimes newer things, books written by poets I know, the phase of what I’m reading shaping me. I’ll revisit poems of mine, reacquaint with their idioms. Depending on the poem’s subject matter, there will be requisite historical texts, research, family documents, photographs from a thumb drive of family material that I carry with me. Populating the visual field, drawing me out of intellectual solitude toward other arrangements, arrangers, of poems. How did they do it. How I might do it. I stave off pre-emptive attempts, as any misapplication of a word might tip this threshold of synthesis out of proportion. I move a small candle in my line of vision; I hone in sync with its energy. The approach approaches manic restlessness. If I have not left behind any residual soreness from exercise, I will take a hot bath, bring the most important book with me to read as the water rises around me. Then I lie very still. There might be a small cycle of rising, stillness, rising, approaching the texts, retreat, stillness, rising. If this fails to settle, and if I am writing of a distant time or place, I will put a song on repeat for the next few hours as I wait, write, consider, space. If I am yet still fraying beyond measure, a glass of wine will do, a shot of whiskey. That would be a rare occasion. By this time, usually, more than a few hours have passed. I begin speeding up, as when one undertakes a section of sprint in a long jog. All of this is yet anterior to actual writing. But then, I find myself in the writing, not a self but a synthesis. This is a cycle similar to ones I’ve described, but hyper-compressed. Then it is all sound drawn from a provisional sense. From a set of distances, I am trying to reach a physical place, a particular one.
If there is a deadline, I must begin negotiating with the poem, drawing it further out of the recesses before it would have possibly emerged, considering whether urgency or abbreviation of time will allow me to complete it (—it always does). I run my hands over the lateral grooves of the thrifted desk I have used since college, I play with my hair. I press my face into Tilly’s side and making strange noises. She extends a paw when I turn back to work, softly growls, eventually accepts my distraction. To give her some time, we’ll go out back so she can do her Tilly things. I stand outside, looking up, a woman emerging from her house’s glow into a wintry backyard night. Hoping no one sees. Return to the books. Most often, the keyboard; rarely, the pencil and paper. The reorientation process begins again in miniature.
Perhaps it is a mode of hypervigilance, to be never not at work shaping or considering, this process of calibration of sense and surrounding, compression of the senses, provisional interpretations. That I must wait to find a day, or a night to work into a day, to write a poem, seems even to me to be a touch absurd. Often I am inexplicably tired. So far, this cycle of approach and fulfillment has somehow worked both when I worked retail and publishing in New York City, and in my time in graduate school since. And though graduate school—even a PhD—brings its set of limitations, in financial and temporal terms, I still can mold my activity and time around undertaking this trajectory. It adapts and expands to the conditions of the life afforded me in any given circumstance. Surprising no one, I am not particularly prolific. But when I write it, I mean it.
Originally from Rome, Georgia, Alicia Wright has received fellowships from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Ecotone, Crazyhorse, West Branch, Flag + Void, Indiana Review, and Poetry Northwest, among others. At present, she is a PhD candidate in English & Literary Arts at the University of Denver, where she serves as Poetry Editor for Denver Quarterly.