The process of writing some poems

In this last couple of weeks, I wrote some poems. These where Carving and Torii Gate. And for reasons of feeling self-reflective and having not a lot to write right now, I am going to try and untangle my process of writing a poem. First up, Carving.

Carving began life as this post, Carving/Sculpting. There where the first poems I had written for ages and as such, they were not particularly brilliant. But they give me the genesis of something I could come back to. And Carving was that return.

1st Draft:

Block of wood.



Now carving another.

This is incredibly basic. This poem is more about setting a base than anything else. Get the basic concepts down and then go from there.

2nd Draft:

10,000 wood chippings.

Puts on some tea.

Then he will make another.

Extra words, extra concepts. This is still simple, and there are not any clear links between each line. But I can see I am intent on the “carving another” idea. That is going to stick around.

3rd Draft:

A block of wood. Ten thousand wood chippings later.

Now a Buddha.

He makes some tea. Picks up another block.

Makes another Buddha.

Now we are getting somewhere. The lines follow each other, and make sense going from one thing to another. The “carving another” idea is set, and the making tea is making itself at home.

4th Draft:

Started as a block of wood. Ten thousand wood chippings later

There stands a Buddha.

A little break. A kettle boils.

In moonlight, more wood chippings on the floor.

Now we are getting closer to the destination. Ideas and things are becoming fixed, but there is a new addition of moonlight. It gives the poem a bit of colour, which was lacking before.

5th Draft:

A flurry of wood chippings.

From the wood block stands a Buddha.

Dark now. Tea steams.

A hand reaches for another block.

Or we where getting closer to a destination. The 10,000 line has vanished despite being a fixture of multiple drafts. The moonlight has gone as well, replaced with darkness and nothing more. It is a wonder where the next draft will go.

6th (and final) Draft:

A flurry of wood chipping cover the floor.

From the wood block stands a Buddha.

Dark outside. Moon shines brightly. Tea idly steams.

A hand reaches for another block.

The moon came back! And it is paired with the darkness. The “carving another” line survived every draft in one way or another. The tea idea survived from the second draft to the end. The 10,000 line gave way to a flurry. I honestly do not know if you can call a bunch of wood chipping a flurry, but I liked the combination of words so much I pushed through with it. I set out to craft a poem about a lone Busshi working through the night. I think I got there.

In retrospect it is neat seeing all the changes a poem goes through from beginning to end. And just because something changed does not make it bad. Left off lines and ideas can easily be reborn in another piece.

Now, let us look at Torii Gate:

1st Draft:

Old Torii gate gathers moss.

One line. I was wandering around my house when I thought of it. I knew whatever poem came from it; this line must be the central feature. Or at least an important feature – perhaps the final line.

2nd Draft:

Year after year,

The moss climbs the torii gate,

Ever closer

To the top.

Incredibly simple, and pretty much the single line dragged out over four lines, with an addition here and there. But it helps to visualize the poem in its final structure. I am most fond of four-line poems.

3rd Draft:

Every year, a return to the same place.

Lost in ancient pine groves.

The temple still stands.

The moss inching closer to the top of the torii gate.

Okay, now we have something more. There is a place, and a world around that place. And the central line maintains its presence, and it has moved to the end of the poem. Probably going to stay there.

4th Draft:

In the ancient pine grove,

Stands an abandoned temple.

Only way to know its age

See how far the moss has climbed the torii gate.

The pine grove is ancient, and the temple is now abandoned. I wanted to push ahead with the “only way to know” line but I reasoned that it was silly. There would be multiple ways to know how old the temple is. Plus, the transition felt awkward. Onwards.

5th and 6th Drafts:

An ancient pine grove, the desolate temple within.

Statues all gone now; name sunken into the forest floor.

Its time here can only be guessed,

By how far the moss has climbed the torii gate.


An ancient pine grove, the desolate temple within.

The Statues all gone; its name sunk into the forest floor.

Only hints of when it came to be,

How much has the moss climbed the torii gate this year.

I am putting these two together as not much changed between the two. But they both feature new additions. The temple is now desolate, and it now has more to it. It had statues, and it had a name. Both poems feature an attempt to deal with the passing of time, and the idea that started this whole thing remains strong.

7th (and final) Draft:

An ancient pine grove, the desolate temple within.

The Statues all gone; its name sunk into the forest floor.

Every year, in solitude

Emerald moss climbs the torii gate, a little more.

And we are done. The pine grove remained ancient; the temple is still desolate. The statues have not been returned, and the name sank further into the soil. The line concerning time was simplified (for the better I feel) and the final line got some colour, which is nice. Makes it stands out a little bit, and in my head, gives the image of a rare ray of sunlight breaking through the pine grove.

And that is a wrap on how I get these scribbles from their beginnings to their ends.

See y’all around, and thanks for reading. It is appreciated.

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