How does a poem begin?
Poems often begin with a line for me, something that gets stuck in my head. Sometimes the poem will happen immediately, but sometimes I’ll have a line in my head for years before I find the poem for it. For example, in my poem “Tennessee Warbler,” which Okay Donkey published this October, the line, “I used a bathroom with the sign ‘omen’” is one I’d been itching to use for a while. It came to me when I was driving from New York to Maryland, and stopped at a rest stop on the Jersey turnpike where the woman’s room sign was missing a “W” and thus said “omen.” I knew I’d use that in a poem someday, but it wasn’t until years later when this little bird stopped to rest on my balcony in Atlanta and made me think about migration and omens that I found the right place for it. Often it happens much faster than that, but essentially I need a strong sense of a poem in my head before I start writing. Not everything, just enough lines and images that give it shape. It’s imperative for me to write a poem all in one sitting; I lose the music otherwise. I mean, I go back and revise a lot, but the poem has to feel complete in that first iteration. So I wait until I know I’m ready to write it.