Fragments: On Process and Itinerant Leanings


by Caroline Davidson



This cannot be an essay. This cannot be a lyric.

These fragments will not fuse into a cogent argument or a complete idea, no matter how much I want them to. I think of my mentor, Carol Ann, and how she described her desires throughout her process: “I am wanting everything from the poem right now/I’m wanting years I wasn’t born,/my father as a young man…,” as the poem “pull[ed] the sheet over its head without [her] asking.”  Frustration is inevitable. But, the WANT has to be enough.


Now I think of James Schuyler: “I asked the wind the time. It gave me bells. /Such are our miracles.”

The little bits of give. These unmeasured presences.

I’m trying to come to terms with my thought-aches. My “process.” The ditches I keep falling into with their all-too-recognizable tough ridges.


Carol Ann’s distant voice: “Until you write the poem you cannot write, hints will keep appearing, and you won’t be able to move forward until you write that poem,”  I paraphrase from years ago. Ow. What to do. How to do…

The hints appear, but I still don’t know what the poem is. There are subjects: port cities, musical sequence, disappointment, loneliness. Most of all, an itinerant urge. A need to rid myself of places. Keep moving.

Perhaps the concept of stasis induces more fear than necessary. I sometimes think if I’m not moving I must be regressing. If I’m not moving I will think that each play I remain will hurt me. I will think the dry-heat sidewalks themselves are out to singe me, and the drowned coastlines are out to, well, you get the idea…

But is movement always positive? Elizabeth Bishop knows how easy it is to lose entire continents, and the hearts therein.  We’ve learned how to master the “Art of Losing.”

Why do I feel the need to rid myself of places where I’ve been hurt in some way? Are they just physical scapegoats? Why flee, why the directional ache? Elizabeth Bishop was one of the first poets I was assigned when I began writing more seriously. I did not think I was anything like her. But losing cities, countries, continents? Her distances were so precise. Her lost loves, carefully measured, even if not understood.

I acknowledge our kinship, Bishop. Emotional wayfaring enlarges  physical distance in some way.Psychological diaspora. Maybe that should be a new term in the DSMV (considering caffeine addiction is in there now.)

It seems I am unable to fill the ports with answers, with love.

So I fill them with imposed structures. Music, language.


People talk about a need for “closure.” I’m often thinking in “endpoints” or wanting ends in some way. When will I be off to the next place, a new way of creating—a fresh process? However, my desire to keep moving clashes with the repeated images and “hints” that keep appearing in the work, the anchors that keep me static.

Those anchors are ironically sites of eventual separation: for example, the port cities, whether New York, Odessa, Ukraine, Galatz, Romania…exchanges and interactions, but all briefly-lived.Connections are clipped, cut, time-sensitive. Sexual satisfaction shatters the same way. Don’t think of the leaving. Don’t think of the last touch…


My ancestors were itinerant people, but not by choice. These were people who fled by force(through ports and harbors),  whose music was always characterized by minor chords and gypsy rhythms.


I recognize process patterns, but still don’t know the poem I need to write. Perhaps I’m scared of not having the right stamina for the beautiful, for the good. Even so, what is the importance of finding getting through this?  What is the consolation if poetry is the complaint?

They are equal.

A poet needs an itinerant mind, an ability to leap from wide perspectives to the infinitesimal, to keep moving. I need to pull and be pulled. To allow the brain its divergent, clashing chords. Poetry must be my consolation because of its constant openings.

I don’t want to make my endings habitual, even if I feel fated to keep up Bishop’s lonely art.

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