ABCs of Poetry: W is for Weaving

Posted by on Jun 2, 2019 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on ABCs of Poetry: W is for Weaving

Some of the most common questions I receive when someone reads my work, whether the reader is my mother or a friend or a stranger, are these: Did this really happen? Did you really feel like this? How real are these feelings/situations/repercussions/_______?

Poetry exists in an uncertain space. Fiction can be realistic and still exist in an imagined space; non-fiction can be creative and still exist in the actual. But poetry—where does poetry find itself? A weaving of both, I think. Sometimes more actual, sometimes more imagined, generally concerned with language and sound and emotion in a kind of reaching beyond.

The very asking of the questions about real-ity generally shows me that I have successfully woven my poems in a way that causes readers to question their own reality. Writing poetry in 2018 means access to form and content and media like never before. So whether you are approaching lyric or conceptual or spoken word or formal or visual, no matter the genre, it is inevitable that weaving will occur.

When I apply the idea of weaving to my own work, I generally find that this is how the metaphor plays out:

  • Loom: Sometimes I’ll apply formal rules or patterns to my work, though in my own process, form, often appears after initial drafts, not before.
  • Warp (the longitudinal threads, static across the cloth): The world external to my own experience – what Richard Hugo would call “the triggering town.” Pieces of language I jot down, Wikipedia articles I read in the middle of the night, scientific discoveries, historical events, artwork, dreams.
  • Weft (the lateral threads, active and changing): Emotion or experience, sometimes personal, sometimes imagined. This is usually unplanned for me – when I start writing, beginning with the warp or external world, I’m never quite sure where the weft is going to go, but I can guess that figurative language and imagery is going to be pulled through.
  • Weave (the final product): In the end, after revision and critique and reworking, the poem becomes such a mingling of the warp and weft that it can be difficult for even me to tell which is which – where my own reality is different from the figurative language or external world or persona the poem has taken up on its own.

On a recent visit to the American Writers Museum in downtown Chicago, I read part of a letter that Rose Wilder Lane wrote to her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder. While both daughter and mother are known for genres other than poetry, I think that the advice that Rose gives Laura, deep into edits of By the Shores of Silver Lake, is quite useful for us poets.

“You must take into account the actual distinction between truth and fact. It is beyond all human power to tell all the facts. Your whole lifetime spent at nothing else would not tell all the facts of one morning in your life, just any ordinary morning when you get up, dress, get breakfast and wash the dishes. Facts are infinite in number. The truth is a meaning underlying them; you tell the truth by selecting the facts which illustrate it.”

(You can read the letter for yourself here:

Rose is talking about weaving here, weaving towards truth, where the reader nods their head in agreement or empathy or acknowledgement or witness, when they wonder about the very reality of the poem itself.

My answer to the questions about the real-ity of my poems is this: More-or-less. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But I’m more concerned with the fact that the poem is real, and that there is a very real person reading it. I’ve woven something real, put warp and weft together and created something new. And if it’s difficult to tell the difference between the threads, then I think something has turned out well.

For poets interested in the writing metaphor of weaving, here are some questions and places to start:

1. Identify your own warp and weft, as well as any looms that you turn to frequently. What formal constraints are you most comfortable using? Where do you usually begin your poems? Are there any trends in how your poems are built? Habits in how they reach their end? It might be useful to mark up your own poems in terms of warp and weft – where do you write towards yourself, and where do you write away?

2. For those inclined to begin with the personal, try the opposite. Begin with a different kind of warp: a random Wikipedia article, a particular place, a first line borrowed from someone else, a piece of visual art. (Ekphrasis and found poetry lend themselves particularly well to weaving!)

3. For those inclined, like me, to begin with the external, try the opposite. Begin with an emotion, something internal to the self. Make that emotion as visceral as possible before moving outward towards your external weft.

4. Read some poets who are particularly attuned towards moving between the personal and the external, whether in form or content—I would recommend Sandra Beasley’s I Was the Jukebox, Matthea Harvey’s If the Tabloids Are True What Are You?, Monica Youn’s Blackacre, and Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas.

Hannah Kroonblawd is a PhD student at Illinois State University. When not teaching or student-ing, she can be found over-watering her peace lily and watching Chinese rom-coms. A graduate of the MFA program at Oregon State University, her recent work can be found in the Blue Earth Review, Radar Poetry, Ruminate, and the South Dakota Review, among others.