This chapter of Tania Runyan’s book is about the ah-ha moment in a poem. Or, as Billy Collins puts it in “introduction to poetry”
or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch
Runyan calls that moment “magic.” She also uses the word “surprise.” It’s the moment when you finally find the light switch.
“You, poet, should be surprised by your own work.”
I think most writers know this feeling, whether they’re poets or not. It’s that moment when you find yourself in unexpected territory, and even if you can’t articulate why, you know you’re on holy ground.
Recently, we attended a production of the play “Greater Tuna” along with a discussion led by one of the show’s creators and original performers, Jaston Williams. The show is largely a comedy, with enough jokes and gags to offend pretty much everyone in the audience. But there is a moment that usually does not offend people—it’s when the play takes a very dark turn. It seems to come out of nowhere, yet it feels completely justified. I think that scene in the funeral parlor is one reason “Greater Tuna” is the most-produced play in the United States. Jaston Williams said the scene just sort of sprang up in the midst of writing a bunch of loosely connected comedic sketches. It ties everything together.
I haven’t yet figured out how to tie everything together in my poem, to make that light come on in this dark room. The editor in me decided to look up whether either Potter or Randall county is dry, and neither is. (For you non-Texans, a dry county or precinct is one in which sales of alcohol are illegal.) I also don’t know anything about snakes in the Panhandle, so I chased that one for a while too. Not sure if my innate need to fact-check is killing my poetic instincts.
Here’s draft No. 4 of my poem.
Roadside Oddity (#4)
There’s nothing odd
about a wee white cross
in a dry Texas county.
Tire tracks dissolve
into pasture streaked by yellow tape;
“Do Not Cross.” We cross
sift debris. The earth
curves away. We plant
a cross—entwined grapevines
rise toward ivory sky.
Prairie wind lifts our zephyr skirts.