the winning poem process

May 26, 2019

evening falls
with every breath
another color

I’m fascinated with the process my poem went through before it became the first place winner at the Haiku North America Conference in Santa Fe, NM 2017. I originally wrote this out to a friend but I thought it would be interesting to share as a blog post.

I am always thinking that whatever poem I turn in to a contest is sort of the pinnacle of a process, and so many times it just isn’t. So why was this different? I think mainly because it was influenced by the content of the conference itself. I was able to take it through a system of checks and balances informed by all the haiku advice at once. It started as:

NM sunset

all the paintings

I can’t paint


all the paintings

I will never paint

Then I tried to follow the NM sunset to other places; 

NM sunset

extra strawberries

into the sangria

Then I thought the painting had mountains in it so I better name them; 

Sangre de Cristo

a sunset ?

masks the cosmos

vacation sunset

mountain sunset

Then I went back to the painting and realized there were not mountains explicitly in it!

So I just started writing lines that I liked or directions I could take:

as if love is written

at the end of the day

day’s end

evening falls

as if God’s paintbrush

dragons in my dream

God’s paintbrush

palette of the gods

every sunset

as if love illustrated it

Then the Zen and Haiku lecture happened and some of the notes included “this here now. reach for less” and then the Jeannie Martin workshop; Haiku: The Basics got me to this version:

evening falls

soon the night’s mask

will fade away

(which, actually, that’s a good one I should recycle some time)

a bunch of notes later, during the Martin lecture it morphed into

the colors

of a mountain sunset   (scratched out bc I remembered, hey, no mountains!)

evening falls

a new color 

with every breath

followed by the reversal

evening falls

with every breath

a new color

Then finally “a new” scratched out and “another” written in and stars by each of the three winning lines in their correct order with the “with every breath” acting as a pivot where evening falls with every breath, and also with every breath another color [appears]. 

evening falls

with every breath

another color

Gaaah! I’m so glad I didn’t just call it a day with that first version. We could only turn in one and I did it Friday night ahead of the Saturday 9am deadline because I’d been getting in there at like 8:59 every day and didn’t want to miss it.

Thought it would be helpful to share this process bc it’s the hardest I ever worked on one poem and it’s the “winningest”.

I am crossing my fingers that my process for this year’s entry into the HNA Winston-Salem, NC 2019 conference will yield favorable results. It pays to spend several days working on a poem when you want it to be good.


One Response to “the winning poem process”

  1. Rodica Stefan Says:

    Thank you Agnes for letting us see how much work is done to get a fine piece of poem (and a successful one!). It is a fascinating process indeed, much like grinding a gem.
    I am glad I have come upon this one. Your experience is very helpful indeed : never settle for less. Thanks again for sharing!
    Warm regards, Rodica

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