by Beth Cato
A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to write speculative poetry as well as fiction. There are lots of romantic ideas about poets and Muses, but in my experience, it's rare that I spontaneously create a poem. Ordering myself to think of a poem on the spot will likely cause me to go completely and utterly blank. It's too much pressure. The world is too vast, and most poems are a brief flash of emotion. I need a narrower focus. I need prompts.
Almost all of my poetry is written during two months of the year, April and November. That's when the Writer's Digest Poetic Asides Blog hosts its Poem A Day Challenge. The name really says it all: for the thirty days of each of those months, the goal is to write a daily poem. Most of the prompts are general enough that they can easily be adapted to a science fiction or fantasy focus. This is made even easier by markets like Penumbra that supply their themes well in advance. I can approach the challenge, already knowing, "Okay, let's see if I can combine this day's prompt with the Fae, or gaslight fantasy."
That narrow focus means everything when I'm trying to shove a full story of subtext into twenty lines of verse. Speculative poetry has a lot in common with flash fiction in that you want a straightforward plot or image, and very few characters. I rarely use names. It's enough to attach pronouns. I also can approach the poems knowing that the editors and readers likely have a thorough understanding of mythology or other tropes of the genre. This means I can get to the magical heart or scientific angle of the poem right away. There's no time for development or explanation.
Each day of April and November, I begin by looking at the basic prompt. Then I look at other prompts to layer with it. I let my thoughts drift. I go wash dishes, bake cookies, or work on another writing project, and all the while these prompts are clashing in my head.
With the goal of one poem a day, there's no time to mess around. I can't wait for Muses. My creative process is violent. I'm jamming together puzzle pieces from completely different sets. Oftentimes, the first line comes into my head, and the rest of the poem flows from there. I usually don't know how it will end until it ends. The poem finds its natural rhythm with its unnatural subject matter, and takes on a life of its own.
If a Muse does visit me, it's not because I'm idle in wait for inspiration. It's because I set a trap and lured her in.
Beth Cato's poetry can be found in The Christian Science Monitor, The Pedestal Magazine, Every Day Poets, and on various pieces of paper crammed into her purse. She lives in Arizona, but is from Hanford, California.
Learn more about Beth on her website.