My writing process used to consist of the following: (1) cough up some words on paper; (2) format them into something that looks like a poem; (3) feel pretty excited about the poem; and (4) show it to no one. Thanks to my poetry workshop, my process now includes a few more steps: (1) free write without worrying about form, line breaks, diction, or anything else that actually makes a piece a poem; (2) find the most compelling pieces of your free writing, put them at the top of the page, and start writing from there; (3) once you’ve got it all down, focus on form, line breaks, diction, musicality — the poetic elements; (4) when you can’t do any more revising on your own, share it with someone who can give you specific feedback; (5) digest the feedback and revise; (6) revise; (7) repeat steps five and six in perpetuity. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Actually, it is fun. You just need time, tenacity and thick skin.
So here’s my butterfly poem, after its eighth revision. Go ahead, take a whack at it. I’m still on step seven.
In the Live Butterfly Exhibit
Hirst arranged hundreds of butterfly Wings
in the form of a stained-glass cathedral window.
Suspended a tiger shark in formaldehyde.
He released delicate Klimts and Monets, floating canvases.
They pulsed through warm air, like sea horses.
If only they had sprouted legs,
descended to the streets
of London, pushed through the crowd,
to the river bank. Or spun second
cocoons and emerged, painted
and patterned, with wings of peacock feathers.
The only butterfly in the room
with a mint-green stripe painted
over black wings lies
dead on the radiator.