For me, it’s not place so much as space. When I’m starting new work—a poem or essay—I like to move directly from the dream-space of sleep into the one-eye-shut space of writing. I grab my coffee and notebook, and settle in somewhere quiet. In good weather, that means outside; otherwise, in bed, or a comfortable chair, but rarely at my desk. The formal place of “desk” I save for the more intentional work of revising and editing.
I try not to pay too much attention to what I’m making as I write. I don’t want to break whatever fragile thing is trying to emerge. Keats called this space where we create “negative capability,” but I prefer the “purposeful purposelessness” described by the philosopher Suzanne Langer. I think of it as deliberately keeping my gaze just slightly out of focus. Stare too hard and you could miss what you’re trying to see.
That said, where I am, the place, definitely filters down into the writing. A crow squawking nearby, bee balm flaunting its spiky magenta blooms, the sound of the wind—all of these will almost certainly make an appearance in my work. Sometimes they manifest in an obvious way, as image, sometimes it’s more subtle, entering the writing as rhythm or another aspect of form. I guess you could say it’s a kind of infrastructure.
My poem in Orion, “Through Line,” is a perfect example. The poem isn’t “about” where I live, but it’s built from the farms, roadsides and meadows where I walk and (too often) drive; the creatures (and humans) that weave in and out of my day; the long iron bridge I cross to get to work. The bridge is so narrow only one car can pass at a time, which means I get to linger as I make my way to the other side, taking in the view of the Deerfield River, feeling the wooden planks thunk beneath my tires. And it means I can also take in, over and over, the warning sign posted on one of the uprights: “No climbing, no jumping, no rappelling at any time.”
I’m sure that’s good advice. Unless, of course, you’re a writer.
Amy Dryansky’s second poetry collection, Grass Whistle, was published this year. She navigates the territory of mother, poet, and worker at her blog, Pokey Mama, and her poem “Through Line” appears in the July/August 2013 issue of Orion. Photograph courtesy of Trish Crapo.