Recently, I re-read a little book I created some years ago.
It’s a book of poems.
I collected my poems and then ‘published’ them in a book I handcrafted myself.
It made a special gift for my loved ones.
I’m not what people call ‘a poet,’ but I do tend to write poems now and then. Especially at key moments of my life.
The poems I created some years ago trigger memories, emotions and sentiments.
They are like condensed journal entries.
Do you write poems?
Not? Well, maybe you should.
Writing a poem means paring down your experience to just a few words or phrases.
This is great training for whatever else you write.
I know that my own writing has been shaped and improved by writing poems.
When you write a poem, the challenge is to capture a moment, a feeling or a fleeting thought. Here is one of my poems that invokes a moment when my son, Sebastian, went to visit his new-born half-sister.
Little Red Car
He waved to me
As he got onto the plane
Lifting his skateboard high
In his luggage
The little red car
For his new sister.
At the big old house
He used to play with it
In his room halfway up the landing,
Pushing it over the blue vinyl
With gold flecks
He was little then
And liked to crawl into my bed
When I pushed him out of my body
And gathered him to my heart
All wet and tiny
No one told me
He would become a man
The very next day.
Some simple suggestions on how to write a poem
First of all, it’s important to let go of any ideas of writing a ‘good’ poem. Your poems are memories frozen in time. They don’t need to be important to anyone else.
Here are a few pointers that make writing poems enjoyable:
Focus on a particular moment
Poems work best if you focus on a moment that expresses an emotion or is a metaphor for an idea.
Such moments occur every day. We just need to notice them.
Imagine you see a cicada shell on the ground. At that moment you might remember that cicadas emerge from years in the ground – and then only live and sing for a couple of weeks. Here is what Zen poet Basho made of such a moment:
Shell of a cicada
It sang itself away
The more details you use, the more vivid your poem will be. Sensory details help your readers to identify emotionally with your poem.
Here are some questions to elicit sensory details:
If your poem is set in a location, what do you see?
What colors are there?
What do you hear?
What do you taste or smell?
If a person is the focus of your poem, what details are telling?
What do they look like?
What do they say?
What do they see?
Here is a short poem with rich details by William Carlos Williams
This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
The fun of found poems
A found poem uses words from non-poetic contexts and turns them into poetry. It’s like a collage. You can find scraps of sentences in your everyday life and put them together to make a poem.
Here is where you can find material for your language collage:
- instruction books
- scraps of conversations
- phone messages, notes you’ve written to yourself
- shopping lists
Here are two examples of found poems. The first one is by William Whewell who found the following poem in a treatise of mechanics:
An Elementary Treatise on Mechanics
Hence no force,
can stretch a cord,
into a horizontal line
which is accurately straight.
The poet Hart Seely found poetry in the speeches and news briefings of Donald Rumsfeld. Here is one of his tongue-in-cheek poems:
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.
If you want to create a ‘found poem,’ make sure you carry a notebook around with you. Jot down any interesting bits of language you find. You’ll find that your ordinary life turns into a treasure hunt!
Editing: the crucial phase
The most important part of writing a poem is to pare it down to the essential. When you edit your poem, you need to test every word to see if it can be left out.
If you are lucky, you might end up with just a few words.
Here is a celebrated poem by William Carlos Williams where most of the content is pared away, and only a few poignant words remain:
The Red Wheelbarrow
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
What about you?
Do you write poems? If so, please share your poem so we can all enjoy it.
Or maybe you have a favorite poem someone else wrote?
Please share your poems and thoughts in the comment section.