Discussion #6: Process Notes

This topic was suggested by Tilly Bud. All I am going to do is ask a few questions. These are only suggestions to get the ball rolling. You are free to address the topic in any form you wish.

1.  What are process notes?

2. How do you feel about them?

3. Are they helpful? Not?

4. What would you like to see in the notes?

5. Do you use them and how often?

6. Do you feel they get in the way, detract from the posted material?

7. Do you have an example from something you’ve recently read or posted?

8. Do you think everyone should use them, or that no one should?

9. Do you think process notes are necessary and when? Are they simply explanation, and if so, does that mean the author wasn’t clear, or is simply insecure about the writing?

10. Do you have questions about using the notes?

Podium is open:


About 1sojournal

Loves words and language. Dances on paper to her own inner music. Loves to share and keeps several blogs to facilitate that. They can be found here: http://1sojournal.wordpress.com/ http://soulsmusic.wordpress.com/ http://claudetteellinger.wordpress.com/
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16 Responses to Discussion #6: Process Notes

  1. 1. What are process notes? [ A brief explanation of why or how a poem came to be written. References to other work. Definition of uncommon terms.]
    2. How do you feel about them? [ They are frequently illuminating, specially if the poem is complex and difficult, or if the form is unusual ]
    3. Are they helpful? [ Yes ]
    4. What would you like to see in the notes? [ As 1.]
    5. Do you use them and how often? [ I use them when I have something to say ie sometimes! ]
    6. Do you feel they get in the way, detract from the posted material [? Not usually, though overlong apologia can be irritating. ]
    7. Do you have an example from something you’ve recently read or posted? [ Taken at random from my blog “Nature, an Alouette poem”: An Alouette poem consists of two or more stanzas of 6 lines each, with the following set rules: syllables: 5, 5, 7, 5, 5, 7; rhyme Scheme: a, a, b, c, c, b. http://poeticbloomings.blogspot.com/ gave us the prompt. No theme came to mind until I read a naturalist’s report of the early arrival of damselflies this May.
    Or another recent poem, “Water”: This is more of a freewrite than a poem – such a huge subject that it is difficult for me to pin down any one aspect of it. Water could be an epic, if I had a lifetime to write it. ]

    8. Do you think everyone should use them, or that no one should? [ Neither ]
    9. Do you think process notes are necessary and when? Are they simply explanation, [ see 1. ]and if so, does that mean the author wasn’t clear, not necessarily or is simply insecure about the writing? [ Sometimes, in my own case, anyway. ]
    10. Do you have questions about using the notes? [ No ].

  2. neil reid says:

    I am of several sanities about this subject. None of them serious.

    Usually now I say “commentary” rather than “process notes”; meaning it might be anything: poem process notes, something personal relative to the topic, acknowledgements, or anything.

    Initially I seldom added notes; “let the poem stand on its’ own”. A purists stance perhaps (and I can still appreciate that attitude, however… ) Now I write comments more often than not. I do it a) to be more social and, to expand, as b) one might speak to a gathering of friends aside from the poem itself, c) because at times the “process” of writing may include considerations beyond the literal subject or scope of the poem, d) to acknowledge what or who inspired the poem, e) sometimes to “explain” (I do write poems still in process after publishing, ie. maybe not yet fully “right” by me.), and f) to be friendly (bears repeating). (Choose any or all of the above.)

    Others do (appreciated), so do I.

    Most often I place comments following the poem, so the poem does get to come first without that secondary conversation in its’ way, and the reader can choose to read them or not as they wish.

    Necessary? No. But again, I regard the interactivity inherent in blogs one of their most vital, engaging and valuable attributes. Comments feed into this aspect, the relationship of writer and reader (and writer). On occasion they may inspire further writing.

    However I don’t make it a rule, for me nor for anyone else (in any regard).

  3. anl4 says:

    I rarely use them. But I might… I think sometimes they limit a piece. It’s sort of like, you get the kite in the air, you are flying, and then crash back to earth. Process notes sometimes give too much info — spoil the magic.

  4. pmwanken says:

    Neil, I like the idea of using the word “commentary.” I’ll reiterate what Margo Roby has said I can’t use for much longer…and that is that I am so new to this! When I began writing, I just wrote and posted my piece. Then I started reading others’ blogs and came across poems posted with process notes. The first few I saw were very technical. They included information about the form and meter. So in my early thinking, the term “process notes” needed to be technical. Then my horizons expanded as I began to read more and more…from people like those involved on this discussion blog. And I came to appreciate the type of notes included there. And yes, Neil, I felt like those drew me in as reader and into a relationship of sorts with the writer.

    SO I started including some notes here and there as I felt like the piece warranted them. I’ve also had reasons to like the notes before the poem (as Mike Patrick does), but also like those that include the notes after the poem. I’ve done some of each–but mostly afterwards. I will for sure include information afterwards to identify the prompt used.

    Generally, I’m in favor of “notes,” for most of the same reasons Neil’s already mentioned. But I definitely feel the main reason is for the friendly, community aspect.

    (Thanks, Elizabeth, for this site…and thanks, Tilly Bud, for this topic!)

    • neil reid says:

      Paula, I’m amused, your beginning statement about “being new”. Don’t know if this is good news or not, but having done this for some growing while now, in many ways I still feel “new”, finding out how to write, what to say! Then again, we’re not new to life experience, and that also counts. Long short, also to say, thanks for being new and expressing yourself anyway!

      • pmwanken says:

        Yes, that was my response to Margo when she told me I couldn’t use “newbie” much longer…I told her that we are in (or should be in) a constant state of learning…therefore, I should never feel “not new!” 🙂 She agreed with that much. 😉

        In the case of process notes or commentaries or whatever…having “blogged” since mid-December (and only then started writing poetry), it feels disingenuous to say that “back when I started….” For goodness sakes, that’s only a few short months ago! 😉 So I really felt “being new” applied here. However, perhaps I should have emphasized my true lack of experience. That I haven’t been doing ANYthing long enough to say “this is what I do.” I’ve only experimented with including notes….before….after….not at all, on purpose.

        That’s why I love this site so much. Because I can just blurt out what it is that’s going on in MY crazy world of blogging and poetry writing….and learn from those who (no, I wasn’t going to say “old”…) are more experienced than I.


  5. Paula, have you ever counted how many poems you have written? It will probably surprise you. You don’t write like a newbie!

  6. pmwanken says:

    Well, Viv, my little blog widget keeps track for me. It counts all those I’ve categorized as Poetry and tells me it’s 181. I don’t have anything to add to that, because everything I’ve written, I’ve posted. Quantity doesn’t necessarily equal experience as an aggregate state of “being experienced.” However, I do count each of those 181 poems as a piece of experience that builds one onto the next….and I’ll eventually feel like I’ve been doing this long enough to say “back when…” 😉

    I do appreciate your vote of confidence…I think you said in a comment on the interview at Poetic Bloomings that my writing is “mature and stable”…not to be confused with sounding “dull.” Believe me, when I read that comment I blushed. To have been writing for such a short time and have someone make that kind of remark about my work….I was a little (no, a lot) speechless. And honored that you would say so.

    And I thank you again for the compliment. 🙂


  7. 1sojournal says:

    I really paused and thought about leaving the discussion open after that very first question. What are process notes? I know what I think they are, but then have to acknowledge that each and everyone of you probably have your own personal definition as well. I too, like Neil’s word “commentary”, but also was told many, many times, that if the poem can’t stand alone, it just isn’t there yet.

    However, back in 2009, when I decided to start putting my poetry in a blog, I realized something else. The Internet is different in a very essential way. It opens doors to everyone. I know there are people out there who don’t read poetry, will slide away from anything that even appears to take on a poetic form. And some of those people will, or might, stumble onto my blog. Because that is the reality, although I had not really done “Process Notes” before then (one big exception which I’ll get back to later), I thought it might be kind and even educational if I at least let them know how I came to that particular moment that was being distilled into the poem.

    Which meant that I would note if the poem was written recently or in the past, was published or not and where. Sometimes just a brief note about the circumstances surrounding the concept or theme/issue within the poem itself. To be honest, I felt that if even only one person, who had never read poetry, found some meaning in what I had written, then it was worth the effort.

    I often find that notes, on the end of a poem, actually make me want to go back and check and see if I agree or have fully understood it. The Internet, as I have already said, is a golden opportunity to expand the knowing and understanding of poetry itself. And if those notes help, that is all for the good.

    I don’t, and wouldn’t put process notes on a published poem. But, I do believe there is a bit of a story attached to every poem. It’s that story that is important to me. So much so, that at one point, I actually started creating a home made book of my favorite poems and the stories behind them. I never finished it, because life became much too busy. However, I occasionally go back and read through what is there, add a poem and its story and then put it away again for a time.

    Process Notes might simply be a phenomenon of the blogosphere, but I do believe they are an important one. And Paula, I may not be a “newbie”, but the practice of a Beginner’s Mind is a cornerstone of my existence. I actually prefer it that way, and still think of myself as a beginner, with a hell of lot to learn.


    • neil reid says:

      Nicely posed. Nicely answered Elizabeth.

      Yet now you make me want to expand one notion in particular (and one that is very unique to “blog publishing”). While true that I would not (blog) publish a poem I really thought of as “not ready yet”, however there are some that feel “done enough” for the moment – and they (the poems) just want to come out into the light – they even insist. I respect that readiness of imperfection, give it rein.

      Commentary may thus be of merit to acknowledge and inform that process then. Because it reveals how the poem is for us as author, because it allows our flaws (our learning) to be more purposely visible, because that is also encouragement to the doubts (the foul and nasty internal “editor”) in all of us, maybe but not limited to, the newer writers of us here (including me, as you so defined), because I appreciate when those I most admire and respect as writers make clear this process for themselves.

      This is another blessing of blog-publishing which we’d never find in hard-print.

  8. Irene says:

    I don’t know about the purist stance, meaning yea, the poem should stand on its own, but I always find the annotations, the context of the poem given in the process notes to be helpful and illuminating. Mostly I think, now more than before, that the poem is an artefact, but I’m also interested in the thing(s) that inspired it, simply because it came from the something that triggered the poet and the poet is a real person walking about in the real world. Poetry to me is a living art. Just for an example, when Li Young-Lee reads his poems, I noticed he always gives the context of a poem and I find that yummy. As an example, yesterday, when I posted a picture about flower plates, I could have just left it at that–let the picture speak for itself–but damn, there’s a context for why the picture, I could have said more, so I did, and I think this kind of disclosure is about being honest with the reader as well, or being open, or trusting in the reader. Anyway, when I added the text, I’m so happy Brenda responded, because it shows that we’re connecting at some human, universal level, by sharing experiences. When I feel I want to close myself up, I’m also being selfish, and when I open myself up, others will also open up. That applies in life and poetry. Because poetry is personal, and because posting your poems put you out in the world, you are not just trying to validate yourself and your art, but you are also trying to validate others doing the same thing, as well as the reader who may not be a poet and is a silent reader who find value in what they’ve read and you’ve shared. You may affect another person you may not even know through your poems and yea I see process notes as commentary, as Neil puts it. He’s covered all the whys already. 🙂 Yea, I confess, sometimes I need to psych myself to continue to put work out in the world. There’s something else I want to share. It’s the criticism that we who blog our poems (freely) are somehow not *real* poets. Real as in published by a journal. So there’re another discussion I would suggest.

    • neil reid says:

      Beautifully, personally said Irene!

      And yes yes yes, the more I look at rules (do this, don’t do that), the more I see there are no rules – except for the rule of relationship. We do relate (whether we want to or not) and we do care about relationship.

      And I’d love to hear more what others might think about that possible new topic too!

  9. Mike Patrick says:

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for a forum touching on issues unique to poets.

    My blog is seven months old. I came into poetry blogging cold. I had never shared my poetry with anyone other than close friends and family. Because my early poetry was very personal, often coming from incidents in my police career, I placed notes before the poem . . . maybe as a defense mechanism, so the readers I hoped to have someday wouldn’t wonder why I was writing about something as odd as sexual abuse of children.

    Once I found prompts, I continued the practice so I could explain why I wrote a poem on something where I have no background. I was also reading poems written in forms I’d never heard of, and the notes explaining those forms helped me learn. I was hungry to learn. I’m still hungry to learn.

    As I was accepted into the poetry community, it never occurred to me not to include process notes. Various discussions and training forums, with poets explaining their writing processes, reinforced my note writing inclinations. Sites like http://liv2write2day.wordpress.com/ and http://margoroby.wordpress.com/ discussed methods and tools available to help new poets. When I happened to be using some of those tools, I included samples in my notes as the opportunity presented. There was generous feedback from readers saying the notes have helped them. What better legacy could one have than helping someone do something one loves to do?

    I write poems that come easily, and poems come as painful as pulling teeth. For some reason, I have a compulsion to get a new poem posted as soon as possible—often while still in a rough draft. These are poems I know I will revisit and revise, so I usually mention that intent in my notes. I find it generates suggestions on improvements. These suggestions are like gold. I have considered begging and pleading for suggestions in my notes, but a modicum of pride has kept me from it—so far.

    I don’t/wouldn’t put notes into something I was trying to get published. Other than that, I enjoy writing them and reading those of other poets. At this point, if I was going to post a poem, and let it stand on its own without notes, I would start a new blog.

  10. Elizabeth, process notes are relevant at times and other times not. I believe the work should stand on its own, and explaining a piece of work can take away a lot from it. We write to release emotions, or at least I do, and I don’t find it necessary to explain all of my feelings.


  11. Tilly Bud says:

    Sorry to take so long to answer this prompt – I have had such a busy week, I just didn’t have the time.

    I don’t call my notes anything; I just write them at the bottom of the poem, if I have something to say about it. I like to explain why I chose a particular form or punctuation or whatever, because it clarifies my own thoughts on the poem I’ve just written. Others tell me they find it helpful. I have started to print a copy of my notes for my notebook, so that I can go back and understand my own reasoning.

    It is a habit I acquired during my first creative writing course, and I just can’t shake it! Like Neil, I always post my notes at the bottom of the poem so that the reader forms their own first impression.

    I’ll be honest – when I read others’ poems, I don’t always get them, and I often don’t have the time to give them the study they deserve. I love process notes because they will make things clearer in a poem I like. I might have understood it if I had time to devote to it, but I usually don’t. I think most bloggers have the same problem.

    I think process notes are a useful tool; and popular within the poetry blogging community with good reason. Published poems are quite another matter. The poem should be able to stand alone without notes; sadly, that isn’t always the case.

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