How does a poem begin for you?

A poem begins in all sorts of ways. Sometimes I stalk a poem and try to overhear what people are saying, as I did with various poems about Wotton characters. But, more likely, people suddenly tell me things - not because of any gift of mine but because they want to talk - and this will give me, frequently, the best sort of material for writing a poem. The one I'm thinking of is called 'The Constant Tin Soldier', and it's about a man, a soldier, in 1918, who was on the losing side when the Germans were making a great push, and he found he had to retreat on his own. He was alone, his friend died - all these solitary feelings that he had because he was used to being part of a group. And when he told me all this, which he did in a house otherwise empty, I was overcome by the need to tell other people what he had told me about retreating and solitude. And then, of course, there's what other people say, just passing them by in the street: there's often a rich mine of information, and an image, a phrase, an idea - all of those will just come and beautifully come. Sometimes you spend a lot of time writing about them and then decide that there isn't anything there after all, and of course that's a common experience, but sometimes you find that just one single word or an idea will set you off.


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