Thursday, May 05, 2005


A few days back Charles put up a highly engaging post about spurs to creativity -- whether our poems are spurred by events, "real causes in the world" or simply riffing on language itself. Lately he has been riffing, and after expressing some uneasiness about the authenticity of his "riff" poems, asked for others' opinions on how many of their poems were "riffs" as opposed to" spurred". Man, that man has a talent for eliciting feedback! This was my belated response, #12 of 13 in his comments box (& many of those other comments are well worth reading...):

I think when I was younger (i.e. in my 20's) specific spurs, as you call them, would inspire me and I frequently would be overcome with the urge to write about and from them.... like many I fell prey to dry periods when I became dependent on those kinds of involuntary urges to get me going and nothing else seemed a legitimate way to go about it. As I have gotten older, hate to say, a certain "seen it/done it" syndrome has reduced the frequency of those inspiring provocations. With accumulated experience, tho, I have found that riffing has definitely gotten richer -- that is, I can more consistently tap into surprising depths by simply playing with language itself. Good question, one that I still think about quite a bit. I guess I miss my once frequent rides on those mind-blowing brainwaves kicked up by groundswells of experience...

I guess his post made me feel nostalgiac and a bit sad.

Funny, though... today I went over my 50 most recent poems (or pretty fair attempts at poems), all written within the last year and a half or so, and how do they tally? 34 are definitely "spurred" by events or real circumstances, and 16 I would classify as "riffs". That's in percentage terms (easy to calculate, even for me!) 68% spurred, and 32% riff. Of course, as others pointed out there's a good deal of riffing within many spurred poems and events or actual circumstances that are drawn upon in riff poems, but mainly, we're talking point of departure here.

When I look back at earlier years, I see a lot of riffin' goin' on. In fact, my first "real poem", written when I was 16, was a riff. It was an apology about revealing somebody's secret, sort of modeled on the the WCW poem "This is Just to Say" apologizing for eating those plums from the icebox that were "so sweet and so cold". People asked me what the secret was about, and I had to admit the whole experience was made up, as it were, "by the poem". The poem later got published in Acta Victoriana, a lit mag put out by University of Toronto. I still recall it as a good one (the poem I mean, not necessarily the mag). If I find it (I'm sure I've got it somewhere) I'll post it.

There's also a whole other category of poems, dramatic monologues, a kind of riff on the spur of someone else's experience (whether literary, or "real"). I've written quite a few of those. . .

Where though did I get the impression that with age "riff poems" have somehow eclipsed "spur poems" in frequency and intensity?

I think it's because the last six poems I've written -- over the last two months -- have been very riffy, derived from automatic handwriting -- actually a couple of exercises from Behn & Twitchell's The Practice of Poetry, a very useful book, by the way, especially if you're feeling stuck. The desire to go back to those so-called "frequent rides" on the "mindblowing brainwaves from groundswells of experience" probably comes from my nostalgia for those early days where every poem seemed so ground-breaking, so momentous... along with the feeling that after six riffin' exercise poems, I already wanna get back on my spurs.

Ride 'em, cowboy!!

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