Inspiration for poets: a behind-the-scenes look at Yeats’s creative process

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The poetry of a great master such as William Butler Yeats marvels us. His written words leap off the page and dance. Evocative images and subtle emotions emerge from the act of reading it.

His poem “The Pilgrim”, from New Poems, is short and succinct but delves deeply into Yeats’s journey for the meaning of existence. In his pilgrimage, Yeats searches everywhere for answers, from worldly pleasures to the realms of spirit, but his questions are never answered in anything other than a nonsensical phrase – “Is rol de rol de rolly O!” Embracing what he has been given, he decides in the last stanza that this absurd wisdom is the answer he was looking for the entire time.

The ultimate understanding that Yeats was striving to comprehend can never fully be expressed in words alone. “Is rol de rol de rolly O!” is as good as any other answer when using the limited tools of language. It bypasses our logical side and opens us up to the great mystery that this life is. And it can also be used as a mantra when we are at work. Similar to one of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, the phrase can lift you out of stuck spot and inspire you to take a completely different direction. It can even be used to simply get you started on a creative endeavor.

The spirit of “Is rol de rol de rolly O!” is proudly anti-perfectionist. Not that it doesn’t admire an ideal, but it doesn’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good. The wisdom lies not in the content but in the process. The Cornell Yeats volumes allow us to see this by providing us with Yeats’s unpublished drafts and manuscripts. Peel back the curtain on the creative genius of Yeats and take a look at the initial drafts of this poem:

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It’s a bit of a mess.

The additional pages are no better, with large sections crossed off and revamped:

Even the more orderly type-written final draft got revised:

Now let that sink in. The creative process of one of the greatest poets in history is messy. Chaotic. Confusing. Just like yours.

So embrace the mess, embrace the chaos, and the confusion. Let go, embrace your creativity and follow its meandering path to see where it leads. And if you run into obstacles in the road that stop you in your tracks, you now know the words to move yourself forward . . . “Is rol de rol de rolly O!”

Suggested post-reading watch:

 

About the author of this blog post: Jonathan Hall is the Digital Marketing Manager at Cornell University Press. He embraces chaos with his trusty saxophone, Taoist martial arts, and mountain biking.

 

 

 

 

Inspiration for poets: a behind-the-scenes look at Yeats’s creative process

Won’t you celebrate with me? 31 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month

It’s National Poetry Month and the Academy of American Poets have come up with 30 different ways to celebrate it. The ideas are creative and include subscribing to a daily digital poetry series featuring more than 200 previously unpublished poems, chalking a poem on a sidewalk or memorizing one, and listening to Mark Doty’s talk, “Tide of Voices: Why Poetry Matters Now.” NPR has claimed that “you can bet we’re not letting April slip by without a nod to the art of the verse,” inviting listeners to submit a 140-character poem on Twitter together with the hashtag #NPRpoetry, and at Cornell University Press, we feel the same.

Our 1869 podcast interviewing author Susan Eisenberg on her latest book, Stanley’s Girl, a collection of touching poems about gender inclusion, sexual violence and women in the workplace, has inspired us to add one more idea to the list. And for that purpose, we have invited two women at the Press to contribute their own poetic visions of the world. The result is insightful and exciting, and together with our selection of fine poetry books, they make us part of what has become the largest poetry celebration in the world:

 

Baltimore, You Are a Pocket Full of Copper Nails

by Cheryl Quimba

A lot of the time I want to push people

into giant manholes then fly down

to save them, introduce myself as their

long-lost sister who has finally sold everything

to come home. They would be confused but then

so happy for having found something they didn’t know

was lost, and it would feel like a piano playing

beams of colored light against the wall.

In your poems I’m always sad and saying

sad things but in real life I say I am the mountain

sitting on this park bench, so small a microscope needs

binoculars to find me. Baltimore is filled with dirty bathrooms

but no one cares because fun is happening.

Where I live the places where

people die are marked with stuffed animals tied

to lamp posts. There is a store called Hair Strategies

and little kids push strollers filled with

cans of soda up and down the medians.

I like to cross the street like

I’m walking through a casino.

The bells are ringing and ringing

and ringing goodbye.

Quimba, Cheryl. (2015). Nobody Dancing. Publishing Genius Press

 

Meticulous Landscaping

by Ana Carpenter

Here in the passenger side lie Wendy’s bags crumpled by boots

The gentle pungent mulch compacts beneath each nail

Picking at the leather seats to stroke the tattered brail

And decode Dad’s lesson of the day like stringed stray roots:

The ones you mulched over the mornings of summer through July.

Disembarking the diesel F450 with silver smokestacks,

You’re mapping on your hands the clay-dried, thorn-bruised cracks

Wiping the Wendy’s grease on your sister’s off-brand “Nike” slacks

Step out into the cicada-thick air where, like Wendy’s, you fry.

You let the grass prick your bare calves and adjust in the sticky bed

Wiping soil across your forehead, swatting away flying things

And quietly recoiling from the grubs unearthed as dad sings,

Something he beat-boxed under his breath about marriage and rings-

Wash your hands in the cold hose-water until they turn Wendy-hair red.

 

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Order Stanley’s Girl here

 

Other suggested media for our readers on #NationalPoetryMonth:

 

Cheryl Quimba is the Publicity Manager at CUP. She eats, sleeps, and breathes books (but loves a good movie or music debate any day). Follow her on Twitter @ cheryl_quimba.

Ana Carpenter is a member of the Cornell University Class of 2019 and Student Publishing Associate at Cornell University Press. In her free time she likes to sing, salsa, be in the company of dogs of all shapes and sizes, and collect mugs to home-brew cheap coffee.

 

Won’t you celebrate with me? 31 ways to celebrate National Poetry Month