Tips By Mary Jaksch 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 At night. 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 completely 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 the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet 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 recipes scraps of conversations horoscopes textbooks dictionaries graffiti phone messages, notes you’ve written to yourself shopping lists billboards 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, however great, can stretch a cord, however fine, 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: Unknown 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 upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens. 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.