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Letting the mysterious come through in poetry

Donald Hall - Poet

I remember the first poem I wrote where I had no idea what I was writing about but I wrote it with conviction. It was a poem called The Long River that Jane came to love. Jane was 10 years old at the time I was writing it, and I did not know her, but I had a thumping noise in my head and a lot of long vowels, and I pounded it out and it came bit by bit, and finally when I worked on it for a while, I realized what I was talking about, which was sex, and particular aspects.  But, I had earlier, in the poems that I no longer liked so much - mostly - I always seemed to need to know what I was writing about before I wrote it.  A ridiculous idea, because most of what... a poet is an engine for saying things he doesn't know he is saying, often, and if you try to control so that you know everything you are saying and you let yourself get away with it, it's... it's going to be shallow stuff finally. When the poems were... when these reasonable poems turned out to be good poems, it was because there was something in them that I was not aware of, but, or besides what I was aware of, not necessarily in opposition, but something was... something invisible was driving the engine.  Oh, well, I got to... to try to write poems, some of the time, at any rate, that had no reasonable side to them at all, that were purely the mysterious.  That's not always possible or desirable either, but I still hold to the notion that whatever I write, however sensible it may seem, and so on... if it's worth writing, there's more going on that I'm not initially aware of, and maybe ever aware of.  But many times I have looked at a poem 10 years after writing it... five years after writing it... and seen something about it that's incontrovertibly true, it's there, but I'm positive I never had a conscious notion of it, and other times... many times people point things out to me in my poems that I have to admit are there, but that I had not engineered into place on purpose.

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