For my birthday last year, my husband gave me Jane Hirshfield’s Come, Thief. I remember picking it up, devotedly caressing its pages, being slightly disappointed by the cover that was not the one I wanted, then chastising myself for being picky.
I remember opening to the first poem, “French Horn”. I remember reading it. I remember not getting it. Not a damn word. My brain stayed closed like a flower with night still pressing upon it. I put Come, Thief away.
It’s been in the back of my mind for weeks now, because I realized I have not written a poem in months, maybe even closer to a year. I haven’t felt the inspiration for one. But lately, I’ve been catching others’ poems here and there, like light glinting off a reflective surface from its meridian. You look, but you can’t stare for more than a second because it hurts your eyes. I want that feeling of a poem rushing out of me. I’m ready for it. But I know I need to reacquaint myself with its language. So today, I picked up Come, Thief. I read “French Horn” again. This time, the locked language of the poem moved the machinery of my brain, allowing me to unlock the phrases, piece by piece, to embrace the whole.
Returning to the work of this favorite poet was like slipping into a pool of water the exact temperature of my body, then sinking deeper to be surprised by the colder recesses. But I was ready for it. And it was a pleasant shock to be immersed back in that language when I would be most receptive to it.
“Intuitions are not to be ignored, John. They represent data processed too fast for the conscious mind to comprehend.” –Sherlock
I finally sat down to the fourth season of the BBC’s Sherlock, and this quote from the first episode enamored me. It went so well with this idea that has been crackling in my brain about gut instinct. The same instinct that lead me back to Hirshfield at the right time.
Before my first poem was accepted, I had submitted it to maybe three or four places, along with some other elementary attempts. One day, going through these rough poems, “The Insolubility of Nightmares” jumped out at me as the one with the most potential. I revised it. When I stood back and looked at the completed picture, I had that gut instinct that told me this is done. Now it’s ready for publication, I thought, and the right place will take it. Not that it is an exemplary poem in the Realm of All Poetry That Ever Was, but the concept of it had been teased into completion and polished to its highest form. Do I have stronger poems than that, published and unpublished? I think so. But my gut told me that specific poem was done. After that revision, I sent “The Insolubility of Nightmares” to Hello Horror, a newer lit mag at the time, and I received that coveted first acceptance.
At some point along this uphill trek to build my writing credits, I realized I don’t want sub-par work out there. With my story “The Wake“, I liked it about as much as I like some of my short stories I’ve stopped submitting because I know they’re not the best they can be. So when I looked at “The Wake” again with a more critical eye, I knew I needed a more explosive ending. Now, the note on which it ends is more faithful to my narrator’s personality and the choices she makes with her “scientific mind”. This alteration of her thoughts in the end made me get that same tugging in my gut: this is done. After this overhaul, the first place to which I sent it accepted. ☺ Coincidence? No.
For writers, I’m starting to understand that instinct is just as important as the other nuts and bolts in one’s writer toolbox. Unfortunately, sometimes you can’t feel that gut instinct crying out to you:
You’re not ready for that yet.
This poem is not complete.
It’s time to move on.
It’s time to leap.
Just like everything takes practice to get better, so too does listening to one’s intuition, I’ve discovered. You get to know yourself, the fears that you must eschew, your lavish ambitions, your limitations, and your potential. I’m learning to let my gut instinct help sift through these aspects of myself, to better hear its call through the fog, whether prudent restraint or quiet encouragement.