An elaboration on writing the poem “On Darkness”

The following is a guest post by Jordan Charlton, whose poetry appeared in in issue 19 of Typehouse Literary Magazine.

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Although I primarily write poems, my natural inclination is to understand the world through narratives. What narrative offers is a consistent structure that “makes sense” to me and that I return to often while generating material prior to writing. Stories possess a familiar structure: a beginning, a middle, and an end, regardless of how we enter or exit, this seems to be true.

Because writing poems relies so heavily on memory, and memory can be understood in similar structures as narratives, this is also how I understand writing poems. Though most of my poems follow that same tripartite narrative arrangement, I’m never worried about the movement of a poem that traditionally happens in most narratives. This is also to say, I understand poems more like pictures than films, as static creations instead of fluid or dynamic renderings. My greatest desire while writing a poem is to recall a memory and invite the reader to focus on the one moment that seems to be most pressing. Sometimes this is the first memory, other times, my mind wanders to some other bright, shining substance illuminated by contemplation. I think this is because poetry relies so heavily on emotional truth, which foils the narrative structure of how we tell stories.

In the poem “On Darkness,” I recreate a moment of surprise during a conversation with a friend. The poem begins at the end of one moment, at the end of the snapshot. My understanding of the poem is that, by writing from the end of one moment, what happens is that whatever is said is frozen in time and rendered less important than the impact, by my embodied response. What invokes this response is listening to a friend say though she is mixed raced, she identifies more with her whiteness than anything else. What comes next in the poem, or, “the middle” is less important. There is no hero’s journey; this is a picture and not a film. The ending is more interesting, this new beginning.

The ending of the poem involves looking back at the moment, like looking back at an image in a context that exists outside of the one rendered. I’d call the revelation at the end of the poem understanding the beauty of being present and being vulnerable with one another,amid the beauty of a setting so far removed from outside thought and noise, mainly technology. I believe the context in seeing the poem’s moment can change, especially considering our own moment now as we are faced with the challenges of rethinking our institutions, our privileges – what being together means amid televised violence and harmful rhetoric. When I write poems like this, I want to create a picture, but I also understand that how we see these things can change. I’m interested in holding on to moments, but that also includes seeing the connections that exist beyond a still frame.

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Jordan Charlton is a PhD student at the University of Nebraska. He also works with the Nebraska Writers Collective, working with both high school youth poets and incarcerated writers through the programs Louder Than a Bomb: Great Plains and Writers’ Block

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