Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Why a Poem Knows What it Doesn't Know (Thinking Through to the End)

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Why a Poem Knows What it Doesn't Know (Thinking Through to the End)

When a poem begins in our heads, it usually does so with some kind of descriptive imagery, turn of phrase, or metaphor. It jumps out at us from nowhere, or, as is often the case, emerges directly out of something we hear or read. Contained within this initial material usually is the thought that soon will become the poem, though at this point most of us really aren't aware of it or even where it's taking us; the poem forms around these first seeds, gradually expanding and taking shape. We collaborate with the poem throughout, always taking turns controlling direction and losing control, adding balance and subtracting disarray to the body of thought. With each new word or phrase, the poem lurches in another direction, sending a message to the other words that new adjustments are require to the whole. The best comparison is a flock of birds constantly adjusting to unseen reasons for movement this way or that; possessing the illusion of collective wisdom, the grouping really is responding to new and subtle directions communicated from the outer edges of the flock. Similarly, the way a poem knows what it doesn't know, and becomes what it does, comes only after it has arrived.


Something about the way a poem knows,
something that keeps us reaching into it

from a place of dreaming not unlike this.
The poem calls and sets a path in the dark

and light fields of our belief. The poem sees
the truth in the telling is not revealed in what

it doesn’t know, but in finding itself
released like a stream from its knowing.

Something about the way a poem finds
its place in our hearts, something that finds

the truth of what is meant to be but harder
still to say. Something about a poem that asks

and answers, setting loose the slow riddle
of its voice, something it freely confesses

to knowing, like the clear thread of this thinking
about to discover the way a poem finds its end.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Edward Carson

Edward Carson is twice winner of the E. J. Pratt Poetry Award in Canada and is the author of three books of poetry — Scenes, Taking Shape and Birds Flock Fish School.

Go to Edward Carson’s Author Page