The beauty in a simple poem (how to write one today)

May 13th, 2009 § 8 comments

cuileannMy first inclination when something beautiful or interesting happens is usually to write about it, to try to pin down what makes it linger in my head. Or sometimes a poem comes from emotions that seem too strong to just talk about.

Writing a poem for me feels sort of like solving a problem. It’s figuring out how to articulate my experience of something with the right words to make the experience real to someone else. It’s trying to find the words and phrasing that are good enough for the reality, and hoping that my experience of it adds something new to it, or bring out an aspect of it that someone else might not notice.

I need head-brewing time, but it also helps me to be able to look at all the different thoughts I’ve had about a certain line or idea, rather than have to stick with what I can remember last thinking. So I’m getting more into the habit of writing down notions for poems as they come to me.

Once some phrases or sentences have started nudging me, I just get everything out on paper. Any images or strings of words, all the different ways I could write a certain sentence, words that I’ll choose between eventually.

I try not to filter the ideas, at least not consciously.

Some poems take shape a lot more quickly in my head and when I dump them out on paper for the first time, I find they’re actually relatively polished, but some start out much more jumbled and require more conscious sorting-through.

After I’ve had some time away to let the ideas clarify themselves in my head, I can return to what I wrote. I’ll start pulling out the parts that really say what I mean and setting them into verse. Then I just fiddle around with the line breaks, word choice, the phrasing, and the structure, experimenting to find what seems most effective.

I consider a poem finished (enough) when it sounds good, when it has a point, when the language is doing what I want it to do, and when I think the poem as a whole communicates whatever prompted me to write it. For me, a poem is partly about what happened—the story you are retelling—and partly about your response to it—the impression that it leaves on you, why you think it’s meaningful enough to retell. I want a poem to leave another person feeling as if she had both seen what I saw, and then seen it through the lens of my experience.

I’m not constantly rewriting, but a poem is always open for further revision. I usually blog a poem at a point where I’m still messing around with it in small ways, so no, I never leave a poem alone after I’ve posted it.

Err on the side of simplicity and immediacy.

Make certain you’re not limiting yourself.

What you have to say is all your own, and if it doesn’t resemble what you’re used to considering creative, perhaps that’s as it should be.

Creativity is present in the way everyone processes the world. Before you pass judgment on yourself, give yourself time to figure out what it is that is important for you to say. Find a medium of expression that suits you, and take some time to learn it.

This is what I wondered at today, this is what I loved

A poem by Cuileann, 09.

how California poppies
grow in the arms of the streetcar tracks:
thick and heedless

seeing a man button a statue into a dress,
carry her over his shoulder into a hip-deep fountain and
leave her standing peacefully there
(in this square of murky green water)
in the middle of the financial district,

one hand steadying the bowl on her head.

Thank you Cuileann for your guest post. This is why I love you.

Cuileann has a poetry/thoughts blog. Her favourite poets are Naomi Shihab Nye, Franz Wright, Anna Akhmatova and W.H. Auden.

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§ 8 Responses to The beauty in a simple poem (how to write one today)"

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  • Summermoon says:

    Stellar advice.

    I think a lot of my poems consist of me whining so I’m hoping these ideas will help my writing convey more of a place and a beauty, than just overemotional teenage-ness.

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