Poem in process

Kei Miller - 2 March 2010

I've been toying with this idea for the past week - to present to you a poem in process. I always chicken out. Sharing a poem in its early stages is not something we should generally do - they often start out quite badly, and with me I often take several wrong turns to begin with before I figure out what it is I really want to do, and what is it the poem can do. But maybe this process might be useful to some of the students who pass through - to see some of the ideas I try out and then discard...

It's a perfect time to do this experiment because I've just been asked to write a poem on 'Bob Marley' for a journal. I would have usually passed on such a commission; I don't think poems about such iconic people usually work and it's a tough challenge to avoid the usual cliches and sentimentality that can creep into a 'tribute' poems.

So, to be honest, I'm not sure if this will work - but each day for the next week, I will try to shape a draft of this poem.

I will begin by listening to some of his music tonight. I know I want the poem (like every poem) to be musical, to be flavoured with the language and faith of RastafarI. That's all I have for now. Tomorrow I'll put down some words.

Feel free to comment and ask questions as I go along.


Here are the first four tentative lines I've come up with:

And in these times, we play the music ever louder
for where Babylon strong, the music make it weaker
And where times is tough, the music make it softer
And where things is rough, the music make it smoother

I know already some of the things I like and don't like about this start. I like the form that's emerging -- a kind of litany, though I think it may be a little overdone. I don't like all those reps of the music,the music..hmmm. And I definitely don't like the last of the four lines -- the rough/tough internal rhyme cheapens both. But it's a start - and I also think the choice of a 'West Indian' kind of English is suitable here.

oooh..the formatting isn't working at all. I'll try to get some technical assistance to fix!

I love that you are doing this...as a teacher, my pupils believe at the tender age of 10 that us adults master everything at our first attempt, that it is because of their youth that they cannot 'get it right first time'...how wrong can they be?
(PS I agree about the internal rhyme, however i am enjoying the repetition of music....perhaps you could explore the intricacies of the music and use those details instead? (Hey, but what do i know???!!) Look forward to reading the finished poem.

I like that I am wanting to begin to move / dance to the music of it. I wouldn't dream of suggesting any changes as I know advice, however nice, rarely works for me. I love that you' re willing to share this. Thank you. Sandy

ha -- if only they knew. Sometimes it takes me so long on poems, and when I'm done writing it, then I have to start listening to it. For this, the people around me suffer greatly. I wake up at night and say - listen to this version, and the next morning another version. I'm glad you're here to witness some of the process.


that's a wonderful compliment for a draft. My aim is always to create a kind of music in the words, and which hopefully people will hear even when the poem is simply there - soundless - on the page.

REVISION #1.......

So expanding on the first draft, I thought to place myself within the poem. I've simply done that with a first line "In this cold" which I think sets up the way the personae (me) learns to listen/receive Bob Marley's music. It's kind of true -- I didn't grow up liking Marley. In a silly way, I thought it was too cliched to be Jamaican and like Bob. The rest of the world could like him, but I couldn't be bothered. That was of course a silly reason not to listen to art that was truly moving. It was only much later that I learnt to listen to him. Here is the little that I've done to the poem now: -----------------

And in this cold, I have learnt/
To play the music louder/
For where Babylon strong/ The music make it weaker/
Where times is tough/
The music make it softer/
And when the miles between here and home/
Get too plenty/
Stretching like a heart that close/
to breaking/
The music make it lesser.-----

Again, I know some of things I'm risking in this draft. There is the cliche of a broken heart, though I'm trying to make it rescue/rejuvenate it with that rather strange image of the stretched heart. One of the other things I haven't made any decisions on yet, are the linebreaks - which is always something one needs to think carefully about - how much breath I want to exist in each line, and what breaks will create what meanings.

More tomorrow!

I love the idea of Bob Marley's music having an affect on the listener. When i listen to music, it has a voice, almost like poetry and I love that you have captured this. Don't focus on trying not to be cliche, just let it flow. Forget expectations and write from the heart.

wow dis shucks!

hahaha dis make me laff


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