I spent a happy half hour this afternoon chatting with a friend over a coffee or two. There were important things we should have been talking about, but in fact we spent a good amount of the time discussing writing. We both write, and we talked about what spurs us, about the process of writing (short stories and poems), and about the ways in which what we write impacts on who we are - including the way in which decisions we make about, for example, how a story might end connect with the decisions we make about our own lives and their direction or goal.
Not long ago I was reading about an author who takes a very disciplined approach to his writing. It clearly pays off, in that his books are best-sellers - but I could never operate in the ordered and systematic way he described. As, for the most part, a writer of poetry, I have to say that poems happen as they choose to happen, in my experience. Of course, some are written to order - I have entered poems in competitions, and I have on occasions been commissioned to write - but most of my writing is done because I have something I want to say, and poetry seems to be how it must be said.
And then some of those poems arrive almost fully-formed. I remember borrowing a pen to write on a paper napkin in the cafe in Aberdyfi where I was having my lunch a poem that had formed in my mind as I spent the morning walking in the nearby hills. With very few changes, those verses won me first prize in a poetry competition. Another poem, though, published at last in my most recent collection, has taken me more than ten years to complete. It's a poem I burned to write, and yet it seemed to take forever to find the write words, and to make the right shapes with those words.
I think the reason why has something to do with the need to really inhabit the world of each piece of writing. The first poem had grown directly out of my own experience; the second involved me trying to inhabit the world of somebody I had met, but whose life was very different from my own. I am now pleased with what I have written, but it has been a long journey - first, to manage to write the story of Angela (as I chose to call her) in words that felt authentically hers, and then to form those words into poetry.
And I think most poets, perhaps most writers, but poets especially, surely, would agree that it never really is "finished", this thing you've produced. There comes a point at which you know you have to put it down, to say, "That's as far as I can go" - but it is never finished. Nothing we human beings do or produce is ever perfect, anyway! And if a poem is completed at all, surely that happens not when the poet sets down his pen, but when someone else engages with that work as a reader or listener.
For me, to write is a necessity. It's not a lifestyle choice, it's something I have to do. What I write is for the most part very much from my soul; but in the writing it is released from me and is no longer mine alone. All my poems have a pictorial aspect to them - I do always have a strong mental image of the scene my words describe, whether real or imagined - but I know that my words might evoke quite different images in the minds of those who come to read them. To me that's all part of the excitement of writing; it's much more fun not to know quite how the story really ends.