Posted by: jeannineatkins | August 3, 2007

Patterns in Poetry

Back when I was young and angsty, I liked reading Virginia Woolf’s published journals and novels. The nature of my interests and patience have changed over the years, but I still love the way she spoke of writing her diaries and sometimes being surprised to find “diamonds in the dust heap.” I just had one of those moments, when after creating a jumble of notes about Marie Curie and her daughters, I glimpsed some patterns in their lives.

It’s a reminder of what a huge mess I need to start out with before trimming to a few words. Many excellent biographies have been written of Marie Curie, including one by her youngest daughter, Eve, so there is plenty of material to cull for details I’m using in poems. After lots of jotting, mostly of common nouns, patterns appear.

As a child, Marie sometimes covered her ears with her hands to keep out the noise in her house where there were lots of brothers, sisters, boarders, and, perhaps most importantly, sickness: her mother died when she was ten. The covering up of ears is repeated by Marie’s daughters, and in some ways, by herself as an adult. She ignored some dangers in order to focus on scientific truths. As with many mothers and daughters, advice and commands are repeated, so those become patterns, as does play: Marie chased butterflies with a net as a girl, and so did her daughters: I get to use yellow-winged butterflies and green nets. The practice of science demands repetitions of stirring, note-taking, gazing at blue light that can go into poems to create structures. Then there’s that marvelous repetition when Marie is awarded not one, but two Nobel prizes; then her oldest child, Irène, wins a Nobel prize of her own.

I’ll set up patterns in poems and within my series, and then get to twist them. As a child, Irène demands: Look at me, something she essentially repeats in her letters to her often-absent mother as she grows up. She wins her mother’s attention with her bravery, academic excellence, and devotion to carrying on her work with radium, but the series of poems I’m working on will turn toward an end not when Irène feels seen, in a deep sense, but when she looks at her mother.


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