Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

How does a poet do research?

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Natasha Trethewey

Doing the research to write [Bellocq’s Ophelia] I immersed myself in so much of the history—going to the archive, reading secondary literature, looking at the photographs, looking at an almanac of the weather in New Orleans for a particular year. Then, before I could write I had to shove it all aside. I had to forget everything from the front of my brain, or at least in the foreground of my thinking, to forget all that I had read. But it was still there for me to access as I tried to write poems. “Intuition is the result of prolonged tuition.” It didn’t go away, but I had to get out of the mode of researcher and back into the mode of poet. And there were times—I could probably look in my notebooks right now and see notes to myself saying to myself exactly what you said, “This better not sound like a little essay in poetry about history.” I would give myself directives to stop accessing the place where I had stored all those things in my mind and instead look at the photographs again, just respond to what I am seeing. I think it’s a way of making yourself, after feeding the intellect, go back to allowing the heart to drive the responses with the hope that in doing so you will have that melding. You’ll create something that touches not only the intellect but also the heart.

Natasha Trethewey, to The Los Angeles Review of Books

Written by nevalalee

October 4, 2015 at 7:30 am

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