Writer's block is a familiar experience for poets, painful and frustrating, perhaps inevitable. After the murder of my daughter Elizabeth in 1994, I found I was unable to work in poetry. Six months later I began the poem "Her BMW," the first in a collection of nineteen poems celebrating her life, Her BMW and Other Poems. The remarkable spirit that enabled her to live with joy, amidst challenging hardship sustained me in the writing. In that car, a battered model, she travelled from one loss to another without credit card or phone. Wherever I was living, she could find me.
In his introduction to the collected poems of Philip Larkin, whom he considers a great poet, Anthony Thwaite brings out that Larkin's reputation began with the publication of The Less Deceived, to be followed by The Whitsun Weddings and High Windows, books of fewer than fifty poems. I recall my joy at finding The Less Deceived, in a bookstore at Southern Methodist University, invigorated by a unique voice and colloquial rhythms in formal verse. The poem TOADS begins:
What should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?
The Less Deceived
Thwaite writes that after High Windows Larkin published only eight poems.
My copies of The Less Deceived and The Whitsun Weddings, bought in the sixties, were remaindered, evidence of our culture's dismissal of even exceptional poetry.
My fourth collection of poems Among the Absent, New and Selected Poems, published by Finishing Line Press, is available from the Press and on Amazon. The book has selections from previous collections: Blue Stone, 1986, Her BMW, 2007, and Open Season, 2015.
At a recent reading in Alexandria, Virginia, from the new book, I was asked how long it took me to write a poem. Sometimes years! A new poem "On the Railway Bridge" had its first version in William Meredith's creative writing class in 1959, the writing more diffuse and a different title, the experience rendered unchanged, the language honed. Another new poem "What Singer" I held on to for at least twenty years before I finally found the words to let it go. The advantage for a poem is that it remains with you, can return at its own moment on a train ride, on a walk, and even in company.
Neva Herrington is a poet and former educator. She is currently working on a new book of poetry, a collection of short stories, and her memoir. Her inspiration comes from her own experience and the work of other poets.