Discovering How to Discover

Ellen Bass gave an excellent talk today on the importance of discovery in both the creation and development of narrative poetry. She pointed out that as much as detail matters on the tactical level, strategically, it is discovery that can answer the “so what?” of a narrative poem. She offered a number of useful, practical suggestions on how to move a poem from simple recount into the realm of discovery, including:

  • Shift the time frame, vantage point, or speaker.
  • Explore the opposite of the “expected” viewpoint or tone.
  • Take wild associative leaps.
  • Link the story to other stories, or a “story behind the story.”
  • Ask why this is being told now; why it is necessary?

During the question and answer portion, she admitted that, in her own process, she will often not resist the temptation to become heavy-handed or draw too-neat conclusions in her poems; instead, she writes them down as a kind of platform on which to rest momentarily, knowing that in the final version the line must go. I found her candor, practicality, and commitment to craft both refreshing and inspirational.