The Art of Trusting the Invisible
by Kelli Russell Agodon
If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.
As a poet, I have learned the importance of following my instincts and trusting my inner sense to guide me where I need to go. Yes, this can sound a little new age woo-woo or make it seem as if my work needs more quartz crystals or incense than pencils and coffee. Maybe it does, or maybe trusting one’s instincts is a radical act.
As a poet, I realize much of my writing life comes from this place of not understanding why I’m making the choices I’m making. From writing the poem to submitting the work, my best luck and best work has come from letting things happen. Many times I feel that if I just let go of the wheel, I’ll be safely taken to where I need to be. Many times, a little faithless, I try to steer with my knees. Sometimes, when I’m not sure how to proceed with my writing or my writing world, I shift my poem into neutral and position it on the top of a hill to see what happens. Many times, nothing. But other times, there’s a push from something greater and I’m moving again. I let things roll. I watch the streetlamps passing by and rarely travel with a map.
It’s always been this way. When I am lighter and listening, trusting even, my writing and art flourish. When I overthink things, I kill them. Of course, there comes a time, when I need to revise, when I need to be less happy-go-lucky with my art, where I need focus by taking the tie-dye and patchouli oil in the writing studio. The revision process needs a thoughtful hand (though maybe even one wearing a mood ring), as this is the time in my work where I can ruin a poem or make it better.
When I begin revising, I never know how things will turn out. I’m a pro at sucking the life out of my poem and leaving it on my desk in a sad weak state. Vampire revisions: stealing the lifeblood from my poem’s body. Other times, I am a gentle and precise doctor finding ways to clear out clots, sew up gashes, clean up what went wrong. Again, it comes down to trusting, I try to trust what the poem wants to be and say, and not what my ego or head thinks is best.
The gift of every poem happens during the creation portion of it, those moments when I am lost in its words. Maybe the best writing we can do comes from this hope that writing poetry can save us. Maybe it’s allowing things to happen, walking through the garden to watch to lilac bushes grow wild without feeling the need to prune every branch that leans onto the path. We don’t have to control everything. Maybe as we walk we should bend a bit or take a new route. Maybe we should just pause to admire what’s around us.
I’ve grown both as a writer and a person in realizing that the satisfaction in my art is not in what it brings me when it’s completed--publication, awards, status—but the fulfillment I find is in the act of making something where there was once nothing before. I’ve become better at just allowing things to happen, realizing the writing life is a hazy path worth traveling on and no two routes are the same. On my best days, I sit down at my desk and trust the journey, trust what I can’t see, and the inner sense that can guide us to wherever we need to be.
* * *
Ars Poetica with Champagne Served at the End
Believe in a furious world
of enchantment where being moonswept
is commonplace and synchronicity is an entrée
served for our scatterbrained lives.
Believe the carnival tent you crawled into
has more than a freak show of internet,
and that the ego of elephant lives freely
in the jungle and not in your zoo.
Believe every offhand remark
is just that—offhanded, a tennis ball
hit hard over the fence into the wild
rhododendrons. Don’t go looking for it.
Don’t go looking for it or the insult
you thought you overheard at a party
you attended a week ago. Be the spoon
in the carton of ice cream—always full.
Be the messy sundae dishes and the dusty
chandelier, useful to many, loved
and sometimes overlooked.
You do not have to sensationalize
your life to be noticed. Separate yourself
like paper towels and try not to
become a wet blanket.
Keep your head above the water
in the glass or the ocean, appreciate
the bubbles that keep you afloat.
* * *
Kelli Russell Agodon’s most recent book, Hourglass Museum (White Pine Press), was a Finalist for the Washington State Book Awards and shortlisted for the Julie Suk Prize in Poetry. Her other books include The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice and Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, Winner of the Foreword Book of the Year Prize for poetry and Washington State Book Award Finalist. She has received awards from the Poetry Society of America, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Foundation, James Hearst Poetry Prize, and the Puffin Foundation. Her work has been featured on NPR, ABC News, and in O, the Oprah Magazine. Kelli is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press and Co-Director of Poets on the Coast: A Writing Retreat for Women in Washington State. www.agodon.com & www.twosylviaspress.com