Knowing that not all you reading this are writers, readers, and/or poets, the first question and aspect of today’s topic that I would like to pose is this: what do you think of when you think of poetry?
Do you think of frilly words sprinkled together and lacking meaning that young men write to woo their loves? Do you think of the poetry of Homer, Milton, and Shakespeare? Or Dickinson? Or do you think of angry contemporaries ranting about their color or bodies or how they’re treated? For most people, they don’t really think of anything. Poetry is blank, meaningless. It’s something that most people, usually subconsciously without noticing it, believe is something that only certain types of people, certain types of writers, certain types of intelligent persons can do.
As if poetry is something you do.
And that is precisely what I believe the lack of poetry in everyday life, even among writers, is found in. The disillusionment that there is little to no accessibility.
Let’s turn the tables for a moment. Suppose you are someone who consumes much poetry in different genres and from different times. You read Button Poetry and Homer equally. You are well versed in the poetic devices. But you feel as though you cannot be a poet yourself. Let’s also suppose the opposite. You are someone who feels as though you are not the right “type of person” to be a poet or a writer.
And maybe you aren’t. But let me ask this question: Do you have a story? The answer is yes. Yes, you do have a story. You’re lying if you say no. “Someone who doesn’t have a story” is a phrase that makes no sense. For “someone” is a subject, and a subject cannot exist without a verb, without a sentence. Without a story. The second question is: Do you believe that your story can and is beautiful and impacting? Again, the answer is yes whether you believe it or not. And if you don’t believe it, hang on, because that is precisely what I am aiming to convince you of.
Poetry is first, foremost, and at its core, a form of storytelling. It is a form of expression. And growing up, I found it to be something “not for me” as much as joining the army wasn’t for me or cleaning sewers, if that’s a thing, wasn’t for me. Even as I sat at my mother’s computer in our freezing basement in the winter and wrote 7,000 words a day for a novel, it didn’t seem like it was something for me. You see, in writing novels there are certain guidelines and rules. Three acts, your main character the protagonist, conflict, your antagonist, the climax, and the ending, the resolution. All parts of a story. Of a book. And as I wrote novels, I found where and when breaking, bending, and using those rules worked for my style, for my story, and for what I wanted to write. And for some stories, there are some rules that work and for others those same rules do not apply.
For poetry, I assumed that such rules also existed. And perhaps, depending on the type of poetry, that is true. But rules and guidelines are far more vague when it comes to poetry. There is far more freedom in expression when writing poetry. But I didn’t know this for the longest time. I thought there were numerous rules, and because I didn’t know the rules and wished not to sit down and learn the rules, I decided that poetry wasn’t for me.
Then, in 10th grade, one of my six high school seminars was Shakespeare and poetry in which I had to write 3 poems throughout the school year. I found that when I sat down to write, writing the poetry was very similar to the songs that I had started to write when I was 7. When I was 7, David Cook won American Idol. American Idol was my first big obsession aside from Star Wars. I vowed at age 7 that when I was 22, not sure why 22 was the age I chose, that I would audition for American Idol. And I wrote songs from that ambition. Looking back, the first thing I think is, “Wow, um. No. You’re certainly NOT trying out for anything like that.” But look what’s its brought me now. I wrote a million songs that I now would love to burn, but that have made writing poetry as natural as breathing.
Poetry was the first thing I wrote purely for myself. When writing novels there has always been this thought at the back of my mind of, “this could make me famous. A lot of people might love this!” But I wrote poetry thinking it to be nothing but something I could put in my journal. Something of interest at one point in time that would eventually fade. But now, it’s quite a lot more.
Poetry is, again, a form of telling my story. It is a more personal experience than any other form of writing. For when I am writing poetry, everything comes from the deepest parts of my mind, soul, heart, and body. This doesn’t happen in my novels because in those stories, I am writing about other characters. Yes, pieces of myself are scattered in my novels, but poetry is where I open up my chest, take my heart into my palms, and let you touch and taste it. Okay, bad image. But seriously, that’s what it feels like.
My novels tend to be more “big scale” so to say. Instruments of Sacrifice, my fantasy series is the story of an entire world being shaken and changed with the existence of three magical artifacts that everyone (good, evil, and those between) are trying to attain. It is a story of epic proportions in which the characters experience events that affect the story at large. But with my poetry, well there you will find the small stories that ripple in the lake that is our own world and in time, may create tidal waves.
That’s where it’s beautiful and impactful. The tidal wave is more beautiful and impactful than a lake that isn’t doing anything but sitting without life without anyone to come to it.
Now, another question that may go along with all of this is, “Okay I have a story. It might be beautiful. It might be impactful. But how do I tell it?” And the answer to that is simpler than you might think. Start with imagery, with your feelings, and with memory. These three tools are to be your weapons, your pens, everything you need. In a lot of ways, you don’t even words. You can feel a poem to yourself.
For example, I will tell you a story. I will begin to write a poem for you right now by simply remembering something that makes me feel an emotion. It doesn’t have to be a strong emotion. It can be small. But it has to be something I remember. I remember it, and then I start to ask questions.
So, right now, I am remembering my mother hanging wet laundry on the laundry line in my backyard. Okay, so why is she hanging laundry up? A really simple, seemingly insignificant question connected to a really small, simple, seemingly insignificant memory. Well, there were two reasons my mom would be doing this. The first is because the weather is warm and sunny and she would find it enjoyable to be outside in such weather doing the laundry. And this small fact reveals some things about my mother’s character. It shows me that she appreciates nice weather. That she loves nature and her Creator enough to take time and energy to hang laundry up outside when that time and energy could be focused on something more important or appealing. The second reason would lie in the fact that the dryer isn’t operating properly. Which shows my mom to be resourceful and willing and hard working. She is content with the fact that she has to go hang up the laundry in the backyard even if she knows it might be in vain because it could quite possibly rain soon.
This memory glows, because I see small parts of my mother that are actually huge in who she is. They are character traits that I myself want to have. The memory glows because sometimes, I was out there with her, handing her the close pins as we talk of idle subjects. Those were moments of bonding. I find, simply by thinking of a laundry line, that I love my mother.
And that is beautiful and impactful.
So start with a memory, no matter how small, and ask yourself questions. Find the truth, beauty, and goodness that lies in that poem. Now you might be wondering, “What if the memory I am thinking of is a bad memory and no beauty and goodness is apparent within it?” Just look for it. Because you will find it. You may have a bad memory of a dog biting you, or feeling self conscious the first time you went swimming after your first period. These memories feel bad because you care for your own well being, because you wish to be safe and free from judgement. Which are valid rights. Rights which are beautiful and good.
So there you have it. You’re finding a poem, and finding that there are parts within yourself and your story that are important. Beautiful and impactful. Parts you may have never realized were within you. Reading and writing are, at large, actions of discovery. They allow you to discover those around you as well as yourself in whole new ways. You will never learn more in your human body, then when you are discovering yourself.
So this brings me back to my earlier point where I talked about the lack of abundant writing and reading of poetry is found in the disillusionment of little to no accessibility. One may believe poetry to be inaccessible to them because they aren’t a poet. But, think about it like this: if poetry is a form of discovering yourself, think also about how the easiest thing to access is yourself.
Therefore, poetry is one of the most accessible things to exist.