Poem Development Part I: Research, It’s Not Just For Scientists Anymore

Earlier I talked about where I got my ideas. This time I am going to show how my basic idea is developed into a poem.

I was thinking about my military background and the fact that my father and grandfather also served in the military- same branch, same specialty. So there is a line of Army engineers in my family. I wanted to write a poem about that. My first step is to decide what the poem is to be about. Is it about me? Is it about my father or grandfather? Is it about my family in general? Engineering? Since poetry is a very Me-centric occupation, I decided to write it in the first person, as a commentary.

The next thing I look for is any underlying themes I want to develop. Is there something I want to say about the military, engineering, my family, or all three? I decided the thrust of my poem was my relationship with the other engineers in the family. What was the one thing we all had in common besides engineering? Bridges.

I wrote the first draft, trying to get the essentials of what I had to say down. A little while later I went back to the poem and looked at it, rearranged the order of the words. The basics were there, but it was dull as dishwater. I did some research on World War Two and which bridges were blown up by invading American forces. Quite a few of them it turns out. I had to dig into my memory of where my grandfather had been at least during part of WWII. I remembered Cologne and the Rhine. So I read about different Allied exercises concentrated around the Rhine river. There were a lot of them, too. I found the right years, read some more. Now I had a picture of what went on during my grandfather’s time during WWII as an engineer.

Next, I turned to post-war information. My father served during the Korean War, but he was stationed in Germany. I remembered his unit and looked up information on them and on the types of bridges that were being built at that time.

Last, I examined my own experiences. I had to hit the Internet to find the precise type of mobile bridge we used during my service – hey, it’s been a while… Once I had all the above information, I pulled the poem back out and began to rework it. I knew I wanted a lead-in, then a sequence from grandfather to father to me, so that is how I structured it. I also knew I wanted a conclusion that played on engineering terminology but could have a dual meaning. I crafted the poem and put it aside again.

The next day I pulled the poem out and looked at it with fresh eyes. I smoothed the language, attended to grammar and punctuation, flipped a thought around for emphasis, then called it done. For now. I pondered my title. Titles are very important to me, and I do not take them lightly (A subject for a later essay perhaps). I left the one-word title as-is for now. If I come upon a phrase or idea that better fits what I am trying to express in the poem, I will change it. The poem needs to sit awhile. I need time away to gain a fresh perspective, and to let the research I did percolate in case some other idea rises to the surface.

Next – Poem Development – Part II: Borrowing and Stealing

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