by Le Hinton
"I start in the middle of a sentence & move both directions at once."
— John Coltrane
This quote by one of the greatest improvisers in the history of jazz explains how his musical inventions begin, however, these words could also serve as instructions on how to begin a poem. I can’t speak for other poets, but when I start writing a poem, I don’t know where it’s going. The first words I write may end up as part of the last lines of the finished poem or the very first. Most likely those words will be somewhere in the middle, but often they disappear entirely during the process of composing. As Miles once said, "It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play." I let the poem tell me where to go, what to put in, what to leave out. In short, I improvise.
Often, I have a tune, a melodic phrase, or a single note playing in my head as I work on a poem. Although we tend to think of ekphrastic poetry as a response to a painting, my personal definition involves responding to the jazz that plays in my head or on repeat on Spotify. The rhythm, the harmony, the dissonance, and surprise often come together in my ears as I try to transcribe the thoughts and emotions to the page. Occasionally, very occasionally, Apollo smiles and I succeed.
About The Author
Le Hinton is the author of six poetry collections including, most recently, Sing Silence. His work has been widely published and was included in The Best American Poetry 2014. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. His poem "Our Ballpark" can be found outside of Clipper Magazine Stadium in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, incorporated into Derek Parker's sculpture, Common Thread.