Strange and Wild

BallerinaI read a craft tip recently from the poet Maggie Smith (author of The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison, Tupelo Press 2015, among other works) that really resonated with me:

Sometimes the best thing I can do to improve a poem is to loosen my grip on it. It sounds a bit counterintuitive, but if you tie up every loose end, if you scrub all the strangeness and wildness out of it, you can revise the life right out of a poem if you’re not careful. You can put its light out.

(more of Maggie Smith’s wise words here on Diane Locward’s Poetry Newsletter)

If you are familiar with Smith’s poems, you know that they are bursting with fresh imagery that balances between clarity and mystery, opening and building in unexpected ways.

One morning a few months ago, I sat down to write after dropping my daughter off at school, and more than ever before I felt myself embracing all the strange and wild images that came to me. Writing the piece, and even reading it afterward, gave me the sensation of gaining momentum and flying off the tracks.

When it came time to edit the piece, my impulse was to bring order and stability back, or as Smith says, “scrub the strangeness and wildness out of it.” I am so glad I decided instead to loosen my grip on it and let it be, in all its messiness.

I couldn’t be happier that River Teeth’s “Beautiful Things” column gave this piece a home. And after reading Maggie Smith’s poetry tip, I feel I understand better why a looser grip can sometimes be the best thing for my writing. Here’s to taking more risks and embracing the strange and wild!