I wondered how long it would take to make a set
Of all of the places we would go when we were alone,
But then I wondered how we would make it through
If we not only had to accomplish all of our private plans
But also had to record them down to last all time
So that others could try to understand our lives as well.
In being creative, it takes some effort to go to the well
And to get enough original material to make one’s set
And then go through it all when one is alone,
So that one has enough novelty to get through
To those who want to avoid previously executed plans
Even if nothing remains original when viewed at a later time.
I felt guilty when I told her that I had no time,
And even though she said it was just as well,
I know that in spending time with me she had her heart set,
And now I wondered if she would be content to be alone
While I finished the tasks I had to get through
Before I could include her in any of my social plans.
Few things on this earth are as insubstantial as plans,
And while we make them in our lives all the time,
They seldom work out quite as well
As in our hearts we have set
Upon them in times when we are alone
To allow us in life to pass right on through.
All too often in this life we walk on through
Without paying attention to all the plans
That others have created in their quiet time.
But perhaps it is for the best, quite as well
As we are not tchotchkes on the shelf to set
But people who must be recognized for ourselves alone.
I have spent so much of my life alone,
That I have wondered how I would make it through
And all of the time I have spent on plans
That would allow me to find another being in time
So that I would be able to live my life well,
Has ended in nothing more full than an empty set.
I know these are words you hear all the time,
But hopefully they come off to you as well
As the expressions you would so kindly and gently set.
When I was in high school, my eleventh grade English teacher told me that no one wrote lengthy blank verse poems, so that night I wrote one that was 100 pages long. My teacher was, of course, rather amused by the fact that I took her statement as a challenge. Perhaps she meant that no normal person would, but I was a poet who wrote several poems a day at that point, and so I was by no means a normal person. It so happens that earlier today I was reading a book by Twila Tharp, noted dancer and choreographer, and she commented that the sestina was a fussy type of poem that she could not believe was written because of the artificiality and constraint of its scheme, where the same six words had to finish every line organized in a particular fashion. Naturally, I considered this a challenge.
I’m sure that I’ve written far better poems than this one, although I have to say that for a challenge it is by no means a bad one. Indeed, some of the stanzas I think are rather interesting and certainly reflect a great deal of my own thinking and my own concerns in life, whether those are concerns about creativity in working with structured forms or whether those are concerns about loneliness and isolation and the way that plans don’t work out like we would have thought, our tendency to underestimate friction and difficulty and so on. I tend to find a great deal of comfort in constraints, as they free me to pay attention to what is essential and not worry about inessentials. Knowing one’s genre and form frees up concern to work on the content, when the rules of the game have been answered. Sometimes it is easier and more productive to create when at least some of the work has been done ahead of time.
I suppose it is inevitable that in a poem I wrote without explicitly thinking about the theme that matters of originality/creativity and communication should come to the surface so readily. I suppose a type of poem like this can easily bring out one’s characteristic concerns. And that, I think can be a very good thing. It is good to know what is close to the surface, waiting to come out at every opportunity, good to know that even in a rigorous poem that one’s desires for intimacy and communication are still obvious, because if they are that obvious to me they are going to be that obvious to everyone else as well. And all things considered, I view this particular poem as a successful experiment in a form I don’t think I will use a lot but is nice to at least have as part of my repertoire.