Poetry entered and exited my life very early on. It was a natural extension of the nursery rhymes that I couldn’t get enough of as a child. Then my literary genius cousin gave me a copy of TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and I went on a poetry kick for a few years. I wrote a bunch of childish poems that the aforementioned wordsmith cousin was proud of and passed around among her professors at Daemen College.
(As an aside, I had completely plagiarized one of the poems in the set and she had no idea until I told her last year. She was horrified. I had been 8 years old! And I’ve had plenty of writing instructors talk about how copying lines from a work you love is a good way to get the creative ideas flowing. They obviously don’t advocate trying to pass them off as your own, but did I mention that I had been 8 years old when I committed this cardinal writer’s sin??)
Anyways, around fourth grade I decided that poetry was boring, mostly thanks to school textbooks. The poetry they give you to read in grammar school is mostly about nature, and is really flowery and soppy and just, well, lame. And yet we had to read and analyze it ever year, and, except for the occasional eldritch piece by Edgar Allen Poe, most of it was really awful. Even when my best friend in high school became consumed with reading and writing poetry, I just couldn’t get into it.
Many years later, my aspirations to become a writer surfaced again and I subscribed to the Paris Review to see what types of work were being published by the best of the best literary journals. The first issue I received was the Winter 2013 issue, and while I can’t say exactly what the appeal was, every poem in that issue spoke to me. I read them many times over and for the first time realized that poetry can be fascinating and real and can speak to me. And it actually should speak to you, by which I mean it should be read aloud. Poetry is word play and by reading it aloud, the experience is so much richer.
But I still couldn’t let my mind be that free. By trade, I am an academic writer. I write test questions and create formulaic curriculum and edit by adhering strictly to a style guide. Poetry is not in my nature. Enter haiku. Rules? Limitations? This I can do! I started writing haiku the following spring and was thrilled by the challenge. How can I express my experience in a 5-7-5 structure? Let’s do this! Bending the syllable count just because English word structure is different from that of Japanese is a cop-out. It’s lazy. Put more effort into it until it fits but says exactly what you want it to say. It can be done! How do I get a twist into it? How do I subtly reference the season? I may have been a bit lax on that that rule here and there, but I did my damndest.
Later I went to a Conundrum Press reading, the outcome of which was that I bought my first book of poetry ever. Of course I didn’t appreciate every poem in the book; that would be an unrealistic expectation. But reading Frey’s poems out loud to myself was a moving experience. And he introduced me to structured poems beyond the haiku that I was eager to master. The villanelle, the rondeau, the triolet. This is my type of poetry.
And then a few months after that…it happened. An instructor I had at Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop read Mary Oliver’s At Blackwater Pond to us. Then she had someone else in the class read it out loud. And someone else. Each time, the poem took on a different light and though none of the readings had the emphasis and intonation that I had in my head, that poem got inside me. I was captivated by a flowery, soppy poem about nature. Now, in my opinion, most of Mary Oliver’s work can stay firmly stashed away on a dusty library shelf, but what an experience that moment in that class was. The instructor then had us write our own free verse based on words cut from magazines and dropped in a bowl that we selected from at random. In a matter of minutes, I wrote something that I loved. It was simplistic and almost nonsensical and follows no known rules of poetry at all, but it was mine and it spoke to me.
I recently added an archive page to this blog for my poetry and I think I just might be brave enough to start posting some of it. Maybe even today!
Curious about what everyone else is writing for the A to Z Blog Challenge? Me too! I’m featuring three blogs from my fellow contributors each day. Here are today’s entertaining, lyrical, beautiful, unique, informative, or just plain random discoveries:
Ok, again, I usually present these without comment, but I have to say that I really love the names of all the blogs I selected today!