There was enough room on the desk for a few pieces of paper to sit off to the side of the keyboard and accost me with their whiteness. Beyond the desk, two windows looked out onto the parking lot and a lush bundle of trees. Because the parking lot was never busy, it looked only like the area beneath the windows was beset by nature, trees that would sway or stand still, a sky that was decidedly blue until it turned pink in early evening.
It was in the years between adolescence and the perennial day job that I would sit down for one hour to write each day. There were times that I would write stories, but after finding enough inspiration in poets like Theodore Roethke and Sara Teasdale, I would put aside an hour to write a poem. The hour, unfortunately, was frequently approached with the worst of trepidation.
Today, I still have the papers from those hours stored away somewhere, but most of them are blank and unencumbered by the presence of words, nothing that shaped those waiting hours. Then, and still sometimes now, it was an effort to come up with a small gathering of words – maybe even a sentence – that would warrant the hour I had spent sitting and staring out the window to find them, the ones that seemed impossible to arrange together perfectly.
Though I rarely sit down to write a poem nowadays, when I do decide to write or read lately, I feel the pressure of a world that is pulsating and being born and dissolving with such swiftness that it can’t be held off for long. In such a time, a poem – a collection of words that gather a feeling or moment up in print – seems too far outside of the flow of time to be put to paper.
While the things that drag us away into the flow of life are abundant and every day, the life of Emily Dickinson – one of the most influential American poets in history – seems a romantic ode to the artist’s life, one of dedication and limited disturbance. Dickinson spent much of her life in the family home within the borders of Amherst, Massachusetts, completing domestic duties like baking and caring for her family. Still, even as she was sheltered by the standards of the 18th century and a world of less mobility, she exhibited a wisdom in her poems that often comes in tandem with solitude.
At a time where moments seem to flee, the next more quickly than the one before, sitting down to write a poem almost seems like a decisive act of rebellion, a fool’s quest. The disturbances of life can often rob us of the ability to see things in a literary way, but there is a part of every moment that exists outside of our material coordinates of it, the subtext that art can reveal. Dickinson may have lived largely within the confines of her home, but she found material enough in her daily life to write nearly 1800 poems while she was alive, material that inspired a multitude of poets and people that have connected with her work.
The beauty of a poem, often, is its ability to capture an image or put a feeling into a distinct form that can be translated and understood by those who have no knowledge of the moment. It’s the nuances of capturing that moment properly that require time, some segment of the world that offers up silence and solitude for the brief time its exists.