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A Poetic Nightmare
Bonnie Nish on the creative muse
...rising from some inner source where they steeped and brewed


4 a.m. Thanksgiving morning and I should be nestled in my bed like my husband and daughter after the three of us have wrestled a 25-pound turkey into the oven an hour ago. But I am driven by the thought that I have computer time and I should get up and get organized to send my work out to another magazine.

This middle of the night stirring is not a rare occurrence. Often I lie in bed composing a poem in my head knowing I should get up and write it down or it will haunt me for hours on end. If I choose the warmth of the covers over the cool dark office I can only hope the poem will be there when I wake.
Desperate to sleep, a mere word from a particular line, which I know is not quite right, will persist. This single word will sit in the corner of my brain refusing to leave and make way for another. After some time when I am no further ahead and sleep finally comes, in a dream a word will finally escape the daily backlog of my brain.

The next morning usually in the shower, quite unannounced the word I am searching for suddenly arrives. Some nights are spent agonizing over which poems should be sent out where, usually following an afternoon spent in some bookstore. My intentions are always honourable whenever I go into bookstores, have only a quick look at what is out there. Before I know it I am totally absorbed in looking through journals, reading over the latest poetry books published and trying to get a general sense of what is going on. The five minutes I promised myself has become two hours and I have neglected to go to the grocery store for the last but most important ingredient for dinner. Whatıs worse is that now I truly do have only five minutes to whip across town to pick my kids up from school. Later, thinking I will spend just a few minutes on-line before bed, I end up researching into the early morning hours the kinds of material being accepted in different literary magazines. I end up running and re-running various scenarios through my head of what poem is appropriate for which journal. Re-arranging the line-up. Re-counting the poems. Should I send more, send less? Re-distributing the pecking order and distribution. It is a hellish task at 3 a.m. and one that would be better done in the morning but a writer does not have the luxury of when the muse strikes or when the work ends.

When I am writing long poems for which many hours of research are required, this taskmaster can have me awake at all hours of the night. Re-thinking an idea, looking up obscure references, wondering about the consistency of the voice I am using and if the metaphor is carried right through to the end, are all essential parts of the process. Of course these things are of concern when I am writing shorter poems. Every word counts especially here, as there is a shorter time frame to make your point clear and pack your punch. There are times and they are wonderful occasions, when a poem will come out complete. I have written poems on scraps of paper while driving my car, in the dark of my room so as not to wake my husband, on the back of a cheque book and on a piece of paper towel. These scribbles have never had a word altered, rising from some inner source where they steeped and brewed until they poured out perfect complete entities. Then the moment comes when I know a poem is done. Having struggled for so long with a piece to finally realize that this is the last line is sheer euphoria. Having found that final word buried on some obscure page of my thesaurus brings completion. Not a word or line needs to be changed and I feel I am the creator of something totally profound. This is it, my baby, and my creation. The labour of love which has driven me for hours, weeks, days, carving it into something wholly unique. Then I send it off into the world, let it live on itıs own merit and wait day after day for a response, realizing after a time that I can move on to create again.

And I do. At 3 a.m. I have to share, rushing to email another of my babies to all my friends, family and general acquaintances. There is an urgent need for a reply and I wait foolishly for their comments till 6 a.m. (with the three hour time difference back east someone should answer) when I crawl into bed the piece so engraved into my psyche from reading it over a million times I am beginning to hate the life it is taking on apart from me.

On those nights when I lie in bed struggling over a word or line I am so grateful that I donıt write rhyming poetry too often. Not for a lack of love for it, because done well it can be quite beautiful. But rather for an appreciation that I do not lie awake at night with rhymes going through my mind. I think it would send me over the edge trying to fix meter in my head at 2 a.m.
My brother recently asked me how many poems I have. I asked if he meant how many poems overall (because then there are well over a hundred if not more) or if he meant how many I have written that I like. If it is the latter then the answer is easy, two. Usually I like the most two recent poems I have completed. Oh there are those that will always be my favourite Chaucer and Hass, San Francisco 1906, but for the most part at any given time I only really like two.
I like the poems that let me sleep, for a while anyway.

© Bonnie Nish November 2002
email: bonnienish@shaw.ca

Creative Garden
I have created this space
a metaphor for the world to dig through,
the rich dark soil of my verbiage
spilling out into the garden.
Tidy tight lines
of flavourful adjectives
border bold nouns,
thick roots take hold
as I prune unneeded bushes
which flower nonsense.
A window box of analogies
fills each moment
with the fragrance of meanings,
the colours of my thoughts
sprouting into full bloom.
Branches erupt with ideas
perfect yet broken,
fenced yet free,
this tree waits to be sculpted.

SAN FRANCISCO 1906
Bonnie Nish


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