Driving out west on Route 66 through nearby Westhampton this weekend, I noticed clouds of smoke billowing above small weathered outbuildings. Around here, that can mean only one thing: maple sugar season.
For most people, that conjures images of metal buckets hanging from maple trees, or stacks of pancakes and waffles slathered with amber-colored maple syrup.
I, of course, think instead of poetry.
Maple syrup is in fact one of my favorite metaphors for poetry. Think about it: To make a quart of maple syrup one must first collect gallons of clear, tasteless sap. By boiling this bland liquid — and boiling it some more, one is left with the dark, sweet and sticky essence: The syrup. Or, as the case may be: The poem.
As with the farmer making syrup, the poet must turn up the heat in order to get the taste and quality she is looking for. For poets that can mean turning up the emotional heat: feeling the anger burn, touching a finger to the blade edge of pain or the smoldering of desire.
The maple farmer lets the syrup run through an evaporator, and happily allows everything that’s not essential to the end result disappear into air. Likewise, the poet must let go all unnecessary words: delete, delete, delete.
So, enjoy the season. Pour some locally made maple syrup over your pancakes if you can. Or better yet, boil down the essence of some experience you’ve had and make it into a rich and tasty poem.