Some of you, especially those who are not writers or poets, may be surprised when I say that at times, I don't fully see the meaning in the poems I write.
At times I barely feel like I've written them - the words seem to spring from a deep, subconscious well, with very little conscious shaping. The process of writing, for me at least, is somehow almost mystical.
I took a poetry writing class in college, which later I regretted. The teacher wrote poetry, but at least from what I could tell of the way he taught, he did not have the soul of a poet. He approached poetry from a very methodical perspective, teaching rules of construction (for if you do not know the rules, it's less meaningful when you break them) and the process of editing and re-editing to perfect the finished product.
For me, editing is internal as the poem is written. My goal in writing is not so much for others to enjoy, but for myself, to take an image, an idea, an abstraction that is pressing me from deep within, and as perfectly as possible translate it to the written word. As I write, phrases spring to mind, and I weigh them each as I go - does it feel "right"? Does it belong here, or elsewhere within the poem? Sometimes I don't know until I reach the right phrase how it will end, or what it will be called.
Sometimes a word or phrase will come to me, and I hold it in my mind until the poem is finished, and read back through it to see where I might have missed its proper place. When I am satisfied that the fullness of the poem has been put into words, I will look over it again to see if there is anything that does not ring true. At times a specific word stands out as overused, or understated... I'll see a line break that is more of an interruption than an emphasis, or a thought that is not as clear as I had intended and could use another word or two for clarification.
But often, even when I am sure that all is exactly as I would have it, I do not fully understand the meaning of what I have written. I do not sit and plan out my imagery and symbolism, but they find their way into my words nonetheless. In my poetry class, I submitted several samples of my writing and was amused and amazed at the meanings others divined from own words.
The poem I wrote this week is no exception. The phrase "the unfound door" sprang to mind about halfway through the writing, and I knew it belonged in the title, and when it worked its way into the body of the poem I knew it had found its ending point as well. I didn't think deeply about the meaning, but this morning it revealed itself to me.
Stephen King fans, particularly those who have read his magnum opus Dark Tower series, will recognize that phrase, which recurs at various times throughout the seven-volume work. Over Thanksgiving at my mother-in-law's, I re-read the final volume, The Dark Tower, and it's the final appearance of the Unfound Door that struck me this morning.
For those who have not read it, and most likely won't, the Dark Tower series proposes that there are other worlds, many of them very similar to the one in which we (the readers, and the author himself) exist. Many things are possible in these other worlds, but in this world, time only moves one direction, and things that are done cannot be undone. If someone dies in an alternate world, they could still exist in any number of others, and they could yet return to that world... but in this world, the Keystone World, death is final, and there is no going back to change the outcome.
As I mentioned, many other worlds are so similar to our own that you might not immediately recognize the difference - a popular brand of soft drink, or common make of car does not exist in this world, or a particular neighborhood is mis-located within a different borough of New York City. Other worlds are strange post-nuclear wastelands, where time speeds up and slows down and elements of medieval lore and magic are interspersed with modern technology and 1960's pop music.
Through these strange and familiar settings, doors are a powerful symbol, and doors located in places where the fabric of reality is stretched thin may allow travel between various worlds and times.
In the final volume, Roland - the protagonist of the series - is nearing the end of his lifelong quest to approach and enter the Dark Tower, the center of all possible universes. Many of his companions have been killed during his long quest, and the one who is still with him, Susannah, is grieving the death of her husband, who was killed in a gunfight as they neared the end of their journey. After defeating a particularly dangerous enemy, Susannah and Roland release a captive who turns out to be an exceptionally gifted artist.
This young man's gift is such that when he draws, what he draws becomes reality. If he takes an eraser to the page, what he removes is erased in reality as well. The group spots a herd of bison on the horizon, and the artist quickly sketches them. The drawing shows the animals up close, and when Susannah and Roland look up from the sketch, they realize that the herd is now located precisely where Patrick drew them. In the same way, Patrick erases a nasty sore that will not heal from Susannah's upper lip after drawing her portrait.
And after a series of dreams in which Susannah finds herself in some version of Central Park, meeting up with her lost love and another young friend who had been killed during their quest, Susannah asks the artist to draw a door into existence that will lead her there. That door, called the Unfound Door, allows her to cross over into an alternate world where her Eddie was waiting for her, not knowing who she was or why he was there, but following an internal compulsion to be there nonetheless.
Susannah enters through the Unfound Door into a world where the love she lost can be found again.
As for me, I've been dreaming more and more often of Jason - and every dream, these past few months are just as they have been, but something has happened to bring him back to me. In these dreams I have had the pain of loss, but I'm reveling in the joy of finding him again, holding him again, no longer having to wake up every day and miss him.
Last night I had another of those dreams, and it occurred to me this morning that in some part of my subconscious, like Susannah I am hoping to find that unfound door.