Work in Progress – Shared Thoughts

If this is not your first visit to this blog, you know by now that the project I am working on is a creative writing project: poetry that revolves around the duality of fear and fascination with the monster in the folklore of different cultures. Just as each person has his own fears and anxieties, each culture has his own monsters. With every individual who calls Canada home, new monsters are added to our domestic pool of creatures of the darkness.

I’ll share a bit about my process and about some of the techniques I employ to improve my work. A poem begins during or after a meeting with a Canadian from a different cultural background. This is the time when I take notes about the most memorable or the most exciting of the dark creatures in their folklore. I follow up by researching the creature in some academic reference source. I discovered that it is not unusual for a creature to appear under different names for different cultures or behave in a different manner.

Renee Fleming in the role of Rusalka, as envisioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Photo by Ken Howard.

Because each poem deals with a dark being, the danger is that they might start to sound formulaic. I look for diverse ways to envision them. I change the perspective, telling the story from the point of view of a witness, a potential victim, the monster itself, or a combination of these. I vary the mood and the settings, although I’m rather limited here by the numerous alike elements, common in dealing with supernatural beings. I also attempt to vary my narrative, the use of dialogue or direct speech and all the other elements I use, all these while trying to maintain a certain unity, necessary to tie the ended poems into a pleasing body of work.

With the narration completed and with the most words already on the page, the last stage of editing involves the connotation of words and the sound of the poems, their musicality and rhythm. Do I want words to jangle, do I want them to chant? Here is where I employ the words to achieve a mood or to render subtext. In the poem Rusalka, I introduce the mesmerising of the traveller through the repetition of stated or suggested roundness, impelling the audience to ‘see’ in their minds the trance inducing process: “foam loops in magic circles” and “bracelets a-round her ankles” followed by the roundness of the “fair blossoms”, “her breasts” and even “the pools of her eyes”, all swirling around, playing with the man’s senses, with the effect to “ensnare [his] mind to her will”.
(In my previous post – Rusalka – I share a few lines from the poem.)

At the same stage, important elements can be dramatically accentuated (like in the following example, the case of an element of folklore about the connection of drowned unbaptised children to Rusalka). Technical devices draw attention to themselves and, accordingly, to the space they occupy in the poem. Repetition, assonance, or consonance are among the first I work into my poems, like in the following: “a wispy wreath of flowers’ white/ weightlessly whirls/ bare breath of/ dying unbaptised babes”

I hope that the collection I am working on will convince the reader that our folklore is one of the richest sources of inspiration we have. There are numerous hidden treasures in cultural traditions, treasures worth seeking and digging up for re-use or safe-keeping. The monsters that both scare and enthrall us are just a few in the overwhelming wealth of surprises out there, waiting to be rediscovered.

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