The process of poetic creation can vary greatly, and there are many aspects to it. Often a poem begins with a rhythm, a word, a phrase, or a picture in the mind. Sometimes a poetic form suggests itself and wants to be filled. Sometimes what will end up being the last line of the poem comes first — though the poet usually does not know it will be the last line when it is “given” by the Muse.
These initial words, phrases, and rhythms can lead to a long period of writing down images and lines in a poetry notebook — almost all of these to find their place in the finished poem but seldom in the order in which they first suggested themselves. Sometimes music — especially assonance and consonance — will suggest word clusters. Music and meaning are often almost inexplicably at one when sound and sense blend together harmoniously.
The stages in poetic composition noted above occur in a place one may call “outside” the poem. But at some magical point of transition, the poet’s imagination moves “inside” the poem where all the resources of poetry are present and waiting as if in mystical suspension — ready to be appropriated as needed. There is a fluidity out of which will come a solid form — the finished poem. The poet seems to enter the “world” of the poem as a thing in the process of being made like a child in the womb. The analogy with lovers passing the point of no return in their combining awareness that they are, at that very moment, mutually consenting to an act of passion is also not inappropriate.
Once the poet has gotten “inside” the poem, he or she goes back and forth between inside and outside as mainly the imagination shapes (inside) and mainly the reason critiques, edits, and revises (outside) — though there is some overlapping between these two complementary powers of the mind.
In an experienced poet, there is also something like the conscience — a voice (the Muse’s?) that is always conveying an utterly frank and comprehensive message to the poet that this word is wrong, this stanza should be cut, this rhyming word is forced, etc. This voice operates according to principles like those of natural law — it is built into the order of things and is discerned by the mature, well-educated, deeply devoted, and long practicing poet — the true craftsman — and, if denied, will leave the poem a lesser thing than it might otherwise have been.
When the poet has made the poem as good as he can, he feels a sense of grace, release, and sweet exhaustion as in the afterglow of lovers’ passion. His own lover the Muse is pleased, rises, smiles back on him, and then departs — waiting to courted all over again from the start another day. The poet who was “inside” is “outside” once again. But a new poem is born and soon to be on its own — “outside” the poet who made it.