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The Creative Process: Making Poems by Theo Dorgan

Writing.ie | Resources | Better Poetry Guides | Writing Better Poetry
Diving into the Mystery

Theo Dorgan

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Hands down, one of the best parts of being Anam Cara’s director is getting to know the writers- and artists-in-residence and their work. They have taught me and each other much about the creative process. Their genre/medium may be similar to someone else’s, but their approach is always unique and inspirational.

As a fundraiser for Pieta House, Anam Cara Publishing is offering Diving into the Mystery: Studies in the Creative Process. For this anthology, 54 former residents and supporters generously contributed their personal essays in which they explore the many aspects and results of their creative processes. The American poet Billy Collins offered his support by writing the Foreword… as well as creating the title! 

Sue Booth-Forbes, Director, Anam Cara Writer’s and Artist’s Retreat.

 

Prayer to the Mothers of Rain by Theo Dorgan

Send down your sweet

cascading rain

on all who burn;

wrap them in sea mist

& gather them to the pool.

Deluge their upturned faces,

oh let fall

cataract, sheet rain,

torrent of cold water

 

that their bones may cool,

their furnace hearts fall quiet,

that dry rage cease.

 

May they find peace who are in fire

wreathed and bound,

oh bring them on home in your

song of water.

You who were daughters once,

now mothers forever,

send down your rain,

your cold, consoling rain.

i.m. Paula McCarthy 1957–2001

 

Every poem that I write is, has and makes its own occasion. A poem is its own occasion in the sense that it is a self-enclosed packet of energies, all parts referring to and enmeshed with all other parts, emotion, meaning and disposition of breath controlled and conducted inside a fixed small territory.

The poems that I write have their own occasions in that something specific, in my life and in the world, will have prompted them. I do not set out to write an exercise to illustrate a theme or a proposition, always the poem declares its own need to be written – and it can start as a rhythm that takes me over, or as a small verbal nucleus speaking itself from the fringes of my attention, or it can start from an overwhelming experience that somehow demands to be reined in and housed in the verbal construct of the poem.

Poems make their own occasions because, once written, uttered and published they command a wayward and unpredictable life of their own. I cannot foretell what the life of a poem will be once I have abandoned it to its own devices, nor can I hope to know where, when, how and by whom it will be read. Least of all can I hope to know how a poem will have impact, presence and meaning in the life of some unknown other.

My responsibility as a maker of poems is to be instructed in the tradition, immersed in the language, alive to the possibilities of expression, devoted to the craft – and at the service of the poem as it declares itself. A poem, emerging, is often little more than an incoherent prophecy of itself, feeling its way out into the world along my nerves. The trick is to be present when it makes itself known.

I offer this particular poem to the anthology because it came to me at one of the saddest moments in my life.  A woman dear to us is gone, and her going has changed forever the lives of all who loved her.  In the instances of this poem, grief provided the occasion, and the poem announced itself as a prayer for healing grace.

There are no words, this is what we say when faced with the death of one we love, or some disaster of a kind, a magnitude, that all but quenches what light there is. But, there are words; we have words, and the careful arrangement of words, as instruments by which to make, however inadequate, an accommodation with the world.

Seventeen years have passed since the first nucleus of this poem showed itself quietly in the storm of shock and grief that broke over us; perhaps fifteen years since the poem took its final form. I rarely speak it in public, since I am always in danger of breaking down when I do so – but the private memories it evokes are outside the poem, the poem is not descriptive of its occasion but a response to it, separate from what prompted it, a thing entirely of itself.

That it takes the outward form of a prayer is no doing of mine, that is how it announced itself. Insofar as I understand it at all, it is a plea from a human animal for mercy, for the rain of mercy to let fall on our suffering here on this earth. It is addressed to no god or goddess, does not count on some order of goodness or redemption in the creation, speaks without expectation of being heard or understood. And yet, and yet… hope, after all, is open-ended.

The poem is entirely itself, it cannot be explained or explained away, by paraphrase or by scholarly critique, however well informed. It can be illuminated, certainly, and layers of meaning of which even the author was unaware, can disclose themselves over time. That is the nature of poems, if they are well-enough made, if they can be brought to live, to life, inside their boundaries of lexis and grammar. And perhaps that is the poet’s business, to construct in words a life-support system for the animate and self-sustaining poem.

(c) Theo Dorgan

About Diving into the Mystery – Studies in the Creative Process:

In support of Pieta House Ireland, whose mission is to replace suicide, self-harm, and stigma with hope, self-care, and acceptance, Anam Cara Publishing has produced Diving into the Mystery: Studies in the Creative Process, an anthology of personal essays written by fifty-four creative people.

In his foreword, Billy Collins writes, “This collection holds an abundance of insights into the lives of artists [from a variety of disciplines] and their approaches to creativity. Many common threads unite their commentaries. Art often happens not when you are looking straight down the path but when you catch something out of the corner of your eye. Poems come “from the fringes of attention.” Making art is a way of “understanding yourself,” or of trying to make sense of a disheveled world. Art is the result of “repetitive awareness.” Art arises out of landscape. Self-expression combines “humility and boldness” or “alertness and surrender.

“Among the many compelling notions, the most essential agreement for me was among those who saw art as a way of finding out what you think rather than just expressing the thoughts you already have. One wrote: “I don’t know what I think until I speak it.” Another gave this: “If I begin… with something I know… the poem quickly curls up and dies on the page.” In creative hands, the pen, the paint brush, the camera are not recording instruments; they are instruments of discovery.”

Order your copy online here. Or contact Sue at anamcararetreat.book@gmail.com, cost: €12 plus postage and please include your postal address.  See here for more information about ordering and postage costs.

All proceeds go to Pieta House.

About the author

Theo Dorgan was born in Cork in 1953; he has made his home in Dublin for many years.
Poet, prose writer, editor and translator, he has also written scripts for film documentaries and worked as a presenter of literature programmes on radio and television for over 25 years.
Theo Dorgan is a member of Aosdána.

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