I really disliked writing poetry as a kid. Which might have been a bit odd since teenagers are notorious for writing emotional, dark poetry. I found writing poetry a chore. Unless something came to me by magic, I tried to leave poetry alone. The words always seemed trite and forced. I never felt I could capture a moment, a thought, an image as accurately as I would like. Or, worse, the class was given the task of writing ‘Eight to Ten Poems about Spring.’ Blerg! I don’t want to write poems about spring. I don’t really want to write poems at all. And, hasn’t everyone and Robert Frost’s dog written poems about spring? That kind of restriction on my creativity chafed more than the difficulty I found writing poetry, I think. So, it came as a bit of a surprise to me to find myself writing poetry. Not just writing poetry but feeling compelled to write the poems. I don’t know that they’re any good. I don’t know that their being good is the point. What I’ve noticed with poetry, with my poetry anyway, is that it comes from noticing and reflecting. I notice something – a particular shade of blue of the sky, the colours of different streetlights, the feeling of being with my family. Then, I pay some extra attention to it, you know, really notice it, study it. Then I reflect on it – how does this make me feel? What words best describe this? Then, I write. Usually within a few minutes, but sometimes hours, a poem comes. It isn’t exactly fully formed, but there are a few words ready to start the poem and an idea or some other words that go somewhere in the poem’s body. The words bubble up after I notice something and then they spill out. Whoosh! The words pour onto the page. I’m reminded of a story I’ve heard about a poet, whose name I forget, but she described poems like rainstorms. She would feel one coming and would run to her pen and paper to capture it before it rolled away. My poems don’t feel quite like a force majeure. They tend to bubble up like spring water and pool around until I gather them up.
I don’t think I’ve written a poem that is more than a hundred words. And, that doesn’t surprise me. I have found that I tend to be parsimonious with words. I like to find the one right word and use it (see ‘parsimonious’). I prefer to use one, maybe two, words that really mean what I want to say. I’m easily bored by long descriptive passages – if you can’t describe the brook babbling through the sheep-filled meadow in less than twenty words (or eight) give up and try later! Writing poems, I find, helps me find succinct description. How can I describe what I’m feeling and what I saw in as few words as possible? What are the right words? It might seem odd, but I feel that the practice of writing poetry will help me with my novel. In writing the novel I found myself focussed on the action. The protagonist is driving, she’s sleuthing, she’s meeting, she’s reading, she’s running, she’s eating … And, while I didn’t have too much trouble describing her office, or the March weather, I’m not certain that I’ve accurately caught her feelings in words. And, I’m not certain that I haven’t gone on for a boringly long time about the shade of turquoise of her office chairs. In writing a poem, because my poems are not epics, I have less than one hundred words with which to capture something that has struck me visually or emotionally or, more likely, both.
Writing poetry has become an interesting exercise in wordsmithing. I am finding it the most concentrated way to develop my craft. I am contemplating writing some poems based on the requirements of a publication – and it doesn’t chafe.