For me, a poem usually begins with a sense that something is about to happen in a timeless space beyond the ordinary. I know that makes it sound like the appearance of an aura, or something unfashionably mysterious. But it is mysterious. It usually begins with a phrase and an image. I sense a relation between them, something combustible, maybe. A sense of a completeness I am charged with getting right. The relation is one of sound, but always in a space whose dimensions I am not quite sure of: will it be compact like a sonnet? will it be more opened-ended? All these possibilities are usually open at the very start. Something like synaesthesia is involved: hearing a space, seeing a sound. What rings truest for me is what Milosz says: it’s like dictation. I am listening for something. And receptivity seems the greater part of it. Some syllabic rustling that suggests a rhythm. The poem grows around this nucleus (now that I’m thinking in terms of biology), which may wind up in the middle, at the end, or in the beginning. I rarely know at this point, although I may Selection is there from the start: this word fits and not that. Why? It’s not yet clear. But form is suggested by these initial sounds and their relation. Then the words begin to encounter the constraints of limit, the thrill of finding a sound, and a placement, that harmonizes with other sounds and placements. I begin to see that the poem is taking a certain shape, and I suppose I could say that this shape exerts a selective pressure. Words have to fit a niche, and this is one of the beauties of working within form: the pressure it creates, and the counter-pressure of invention it provokes.
Duffin’s first book of poetry King Vulture was recently published by The University of Arkansas Press.