The Poetry Porch



When my husband set off one cold snowy morning early this year, he intended to test his new digital camera on a variety of local seascapes. He found an interesting geometric composition of a round buoy before a rectangular seawall, and as he looked through the view finder the old fashioned way, a sea gull dropped down into the center of the frame. He snapped the shutter and caught it in motion, wings out-stretched, feet braced for the landing. The backlighting from the morning sun and the lift of the angle of the wings complicated the composition just enough to complete it. (The image is now the cover of the current issue.)

The sea gull entered the moment, and the photographer recorded it. In the middle of the quiet morning, in the middle of the wall, a sea gull alighted, never to be forgotten. You might say its arrival was a gift or you might say the instant of time was taken by the camera.

How often do writers hope for such a spontaneous intrusion to finish their compositions? An idea for a poem might come at any time, during the middle of the night, just after sleep and before awakening, or as part of the day when the hands are engaged and the mind is free. But the work of the poem, or of any of the arts that must be put onto paper at some stage, will be conducted at a desk. The tools and materials can be purchased and arranged. The details of inspiration can be summoned, but the spontaneous ingredient that will define the final masterpiece is unpredictable and elusive. On some days, the paper—or computer screen, or digital data-space—remains empty, the promise unfilled.

Cameras are said to capture an image. Writers might build an argument; poets construct a sonnet. But once in the creative mode, you work in anticipation of the bright wings approaching, the whir of motion stealing into your vision. You might believe you will reach for it, but in a sense, it steals you by virtue of its unexpectedness. Even as you worry that you did not prepare enough, you hasten to make room for it as it turns in the fabric of its arrival.

Joyce Wilson
July 2010

Note: Some of you might remember that the title “Stolen Moments” is also the title of a jazz composition by Oliver Nelson. Although I do not care for the lyrics so much (two different ones have been written for the melody), I find great intensity and formality in the music as played by Eric Dolphy and Ahmad Jamal.

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