Tag Archives: Rick Bursky

My Eight Stages of Writing a Poem

Guest Blog Post by Rick Bursky

Rick Bursky photo

1 Fishing

This is the beginning, looking for an image, sound, snippet of language anything that could launch my imagination into something that might hold my interest long enough to begin a poem. Just because this starts the poem doesn’t guarantee it will survive as the first line or even be in the finished poem.

2 Collecting

Once I have the way in a begin collecting lines that might relate to the opening even in the most obscure way. At first blush, the new lines might only relate on an emotional level. But this is like brainstorming, there are no bad lines. I write them down, whatever I come up with, collecting a page or two of stray images of statements.

3 Expanding/Building

I look at what I have and assess the possibilities. Now I’m applying some rational logic to what’s on the page. I’m trying to see what lines I want to elaborate on, perhaps look for interesting words –– I might pick up a book of someone else’s poetry, read something and find a word I haven’t ever used in a poem and use that as the point of expansion. This stage is most emotional.

4 Shaping

The cutting begins. I toss out the lines that stick out and haven’t found a way to cement themselves into the emotional heart of the poem. This is also where I begin to pay attention to the lineation of the poem, enjambment and whatnot. The look of the poem begins to show itself. This stage is all about craft.

5 Titling

The DNA of a poem is in the title. This is crucial and where the intent –– though not what started the poem –– of what I’ve put on the page announces itself. The title is the emotional introduction to the poem.

6 Reading

I ask some trusted readers, all accomplished poets, to read the poem and provide comments.

7 Revising

I have comments from my readers. And because some time has passed I don’t have any emotional attachment to the poem. I look at the comments and start revising, I don’t always use the comments but usually use most of them, or at least use them as questions to ask the poem. Revision phase is also craft, and is very clinical. It has little to do with creating art, it’s all about “writing,” sandpapering and clarity.

8 Evaluating

This is one of the toughest, if not the toughest phases. I have to decide if the poem is any good. Do I want to throw it away? Or harvest any of the lines for some other poem? Should I revise, shape or build again? Do I want to send it out? Do I want to put it in my manuscript? It often take weeks, months or longer to answer those questions.

 

 

 

 

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Writeliving Interview – Rick Bursky

The next writer in the Writeliving interview series is one of LA’s best poets: Rick Bursky. Not only is he a triple threat – poet, ad guy, photographer – but he has also been a good friend and great source of inspiration.

Martin Ott

Who has been a major influence on your writing?

There are so many poets, writers, painters, photographers and musicians whose work I’ve leaned on for inspiration, influence and just plain pleasure. Though the word pleasure seems so thin in this context. But it’s important to constantly immerse ourselves in art, to read great stuff to be reminded of the possibility of beauty and the challenges that come with it. Just some of the poets include Nin Andrews, Charles Simic, Richard Garcia, Laura Kasischke, David Young, David Keplinger, Yannis Ritsos, Alexis Orgera, Dean Young, Stan Rice, Edward Hopper; Rene Magritte, Ian Randall Wilson, Michael Kenna, Lorca; the list can go on and on. Just answering your question reminds me of the debt I owe so many others. Sometimes I think of myself as a reader who sometimes writes. Teaching has also been a wonderful influence on my writing. For instance, teaching the prose poem and introducing students to its many possibilities has sent me on a prose poem binge. Same thing for the ghazal. One of a teachers responsibilities it to inspire students and instill enthusiasm, I’m also a student in my classes.

Can you give us insight into your creative process?

My poems probably fall into four or five categories. For most of them it starts with a line. In the first couple of drafts that’s the opening line of the poem but in subsequent versions it moves down or disappears, the line is simply a trigger. I try to write line by line. Make as statement, a line, move on. I’ll often change the subject from line to line. Write a line. Move on. That’s my preferred way to work. I’m writing poems, not stories. I really like the quote, “narrative in a poem is like a almond in a Hershey bar, nice but not necessary,” I think it was Charles Wright who said that. I’m always looking, searching praying, begging for a line to start with. My notebooks are filled with failed starts.  For instance, “it’s simply a coincidence that all the women I’ve ever loved kept anteaters as pets” is a line that floated around for years before it became a poem.

Another way into a poem for me is an image. A man stands on street corner balancing a bowling pin on his head. I just wrote that as an example but I sort of like it. I’ll probably spend the next couple of weeks seeing where that goes. I used to be a photographer. Now I think of myself as a photographer too lazy to go out and look for photographs so I write them out, poems.

Someone once accused me of simply finding strange or interesting historical facts and calling them prose poems. For instance, I wrote about how people first got started photographing children on ponies, wrote about the Brotherhood of Travelling Postcard Photographers in France and how they helped the allied air forces bomb the Germans, wrote that according to the United Nations being killed by bee stings is the 247th most common way to be killed, explained what happened to the single photograph that was taken of George Washington, etc, etc – it’s all made up. But that’s another way I work, an unusual faux fact filtered through language.

Then there’s another poem, a series of poems, I’ve been writing for about twenty years, though I didn’t know they were connected in any way for the first eight or so years. All of these poems take place on a small, ignored island in the Mediterranean where the main source of work is fishing. They could be Greeks, Italians or who knows. I write about life on there.

No matter which poems I’m working on they all start as scribbled lines in a notebook, and I write everything with a fountain pen. I don’t write on a computer, I type on that. Once I get past a couple of good drafts of a poem I type it on the computer, then carrying it in my pocket for a week making revisions and notes. Once I’m sort of happy I let a couple of friends read it and see what they think. Then back to revising.

Can you share an example of overcoming adversity to keep your writing dream alive?

Your question suggests that I’ve overcome adversity. The jury is still out on that one. Life is always uphill, if it’s not one thing it’s another. I don’t think I’ve had any more adversity it my life than any other person, perhaps even less than some. You get up in the morning and to work. Some day’s it’s harder than others. Bills come in the mail. Death comes. Lovers leave. Things happen. You can’t sleep, spend nights staring at the ceiling and wondering what comes next. But if you’re a writer you write. No excuses. You write something, anything, sometimes it’s even good. Writing has never been a dream, it’s what I do. Winning the lottery is something I dream of. And come to think of it, as soon as I win I’ll revise this and write that winning the lottery has helped me overcome adversity. Until then, ouch. Of course, good friends, good cigars, good wine and good poetry are essentials.

What is something about you that writers and readers may not know?

I don’t believe in talent or inspiration. If you want to be a writer you write. Anyone could be a good poet. Great poet is another story. I make up for lack of talent by working hard. And inspiration? Nonsense. A poet should live an inspired life.  That’s not something you wait for. That’s something you go out and get.

About the Author:

Rick Bursky’s most recent book , Death Obscura was published by Sarabande Books.  His previous book, The Soup of Something Missing, was published by Bear Star Press. He’s been nominated for a Pushcart Prize four times. His poems have appeared in many journals including American Poetry Review, Field, Iowa Review, Gettysburg Review, Conduit, Prairie Schooner, Black Warrior Review, Shenandoah, and Hotel Amerika. Bursky works in advertising and is an adjunct at USC and teaches at UCLA Extension.

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