It doesn't take three years to bake a cake. So why do people sometimes take years to write short poems? I was at the Dan O'Connell a few weeks ago and the person reading mentioned that it took them three years to write a villanelle, which befuddled me. Did she have that much trouble in finding the rhymes?
I was thinking about this again yesterday when listening to an interview with the New Zealand poet laureate. Apparently some of her pieces were written over the course of several years. What took her so long, I wondered - did she get distracted by the television? For several years?
Still, poets love setting themselves challenges, like elaborate narratives, or odd verse structures, or words that rhyme with 'plinth', and it occurred to me that it might actually be quite interesting to devote one's whole life to writing a single poem. Indeed, there's something grand and inspiring about the whole concept. A limerick should do it: the average limerick would have about twenty to thirty words in it, and, if you devote sufficient time, you should be able to space it out nicely. Each word and item of punctuation could be composed over the course of a year, so the whole thing should take some forty years.
You would start fairly early, at the age of 25, or 30 or so, leisurely marking down the first word on the page. As you rise to the task over the following years, you would place down several more words, a comma, and a hyphen, taking you into your late 30s. You would hesitate for two or three years over the colon that terminates the first line and begins the second, for you would probably have reached your mid-life crisis - and you possibly might be unable to think because of your children running around.
But soon, in another year, you would really throw yourself into the task, and write another word. Fired with ambition and inspiration, two more words would quickly follow, in the course of a mere six months, followed by a hesitation for a small year or so while you pondered whether to put in a comma after or before some quotation marks.
And so, in a leisurely manner, over the course of decades, your limerick would be written. As you reach your sixties, and age of retirement, you would proudly place the last words on the page, and your limerick would be finished. You would take another five years or so in checking the poem to see if there are any spelling mistakes, but by the time you had reached your seventies you would really be in your prime - you would have sent your poem off to the publisher, and had it published in a medium-sized book, half-a-page in size, with a title like 'The Collected Works' - or perhaps 'The Only Work'.
Should you happen to be healthy, you might indeed have time to start another poem, a haiku, say, or a couplet, but I wouldn't count on it. It would hardly do to be too prolific. Your readers might start wanting less.
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