Posted by: Viola | January 10, 2015

A poetry notebook should be messy

When we read published poetry, it seems so clean, so neat, so well ordered on the page. And any messy poems are deliberately so. Intentionally messy, crafted that way for a certain aesthetic that pleases the poet or reader. These poems have been edited, revised, proofread, revised some more, lines cut and moved around, style and meter and form have been tweaked. Tones and voices have been adjusted. The final product is a careful thing. Void of much of its initial chaos.

Poems, once the poet feels they are ready, are often very sterilized things. The imagery has been tinkered with. The metaphors and similes have been polished. Too much polishing, sometimes. And the poems lose their true wild spirit. Their boldness and organic disorderliness.

But poems aren’t ordinarily clean and neat things. They are messy. Why? Because they represent the way we think and feel. And our thoughts and emotions are complex and jumbled things, most of the time.

Finished poems represent the culmination of lots of reflection (and hard work) on the part of the poet. The lyric moments or turns (spots or points of magical thinking and incredible imaginative leaps in the poem), where the reader gets blown away or sucked in and impressed and engaged, are total fabrications. These special points in the poem represent moments of clarity that the poet has had to work out and think through and gently shove into the poem so that the poem grabs the reader.

But this is not how the poem is initially. Initially, everything might be fuzzy. Broken up. Fragments. Words and lines that don’t cohere. Images that are all over the place. It is the rare poem that arrives in the poet’s mind fully formed. And yes, some poems do arrive fully formed, the lines and meaning make perfect sense instantly. But this is rare. Mostly, it’s the chaotic poems that come, and they come demanding attention and effort and time.

So a poetry notebook (a believable notebook), should be messy. It should be full of pages scribbled on. There should be lines and verses all over the place. Ideas and possible images and metaphors sprinkled all over, on random pages. There could be drawings and doodles, whenever needed. Scraps of conversation, bits of memory, lists of captivating words. There should be lots and lots of poems in the notebook, each one at a different stage of development–or abandonment. Poems. Poems. Everywhere. Free to be themselves and undergo their own processes of discovery.

Opening a poetry notebook should be like walking into a school cafeteria at lunchtime. Lots of noisy conversations. Lots of side conversations. People connecting, people moving apart, everyone looks different and sounds different but somehow they speak the same language. A notebook should be the same. Poems stomping around, sitting down on the page, trying to figure out what they like to eat and what they want to toss away and reject. Poems seeing what other poems they connect to, what themes or commonalities they share. Poems making a mess with all the words and food and energy they are given. Poems scattered and scattering or coming together and collaborating but laughing all the while and having a good time doing what they do. Learning from each other. Striving to be better, stronger, smarter, sharper. But all in good time.



  1. I thoroughly enjoyed your post. It was as though you took a trip through my journals and described them!

    • I love that! I criticize myself so much about my messiness but maybe the messier the better…a messy notebook says I am not censoring myself but letting myself wander freely thru the words and ideas… 🙂

      • Absolutely! True gems come from those lovely chaotic lines written with passion and abandon. ☺️

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