April 4, 2016

Creating a Memorable Poem

By Carol Ingram

A few weeks ago I was asked to write a poem as part of the 100th year celebration of the small church I grew up in in Florida. I immediately said yes, then felt the weight of taking on such an important task. Memories began to tumble through my head as I thought about the important people and events that happened in that small church. I answered my baptismal vows at the right side of that wooden altar. Ten years later I stood at the center of that altar and spoke wedding vows. Thirty-five years later I said good-bye to my Dad at that same altar as they rolled his casket away. 

I thought about stories I had heard of how the church came to be; farmers taking mules and plows to the site to dig the basement and foundation. I wanted to capture it all. But how?

I pulled out my journal and began writing. The goal at this point was not to write the poem but to get the ideas, the phrases, the images on paper. The memories kept coming as I put pen to paper without filtering. That page in my journal is not pretty. It doesn’t even have complete sentences. It was a place for the creative ideas to flow along with the truths of what I needed to say.

I did not write the poem that day. I let the ideas and images grow within me for a few days. I sorted out in my mind and heart what was most important and what did not need to be brought to light. My mom and my husband offered some insights, that I also mulled over. While all this inner work was happening I felt the cloud of witnesses surrounding my thoughts. I realized there were people I needed to honor that I never knew. Hard working people; farmers, factory workers, teachers, simple, rural people who built the church and are the church.  They became my inspiration.

The words for the poem began to emerge in my mind early one morning, so I got up at five a.m. (not normal for me!) and let the words find their way to my page. I actually wrote this in my journal. I like the process of writing on paper. I like the feel of it and the way I can mark things out and write to the side. For me, I don’t lose words or ideas that way.

I could tell I was getting stuck when the poem’s focus shifted. I kept writing but it felt off. And it was. When I went back to it the next day I saw exactly what had happened. I had felt the need to make the story bigger. I wanted to inspire greatness for the 100th celebration. I was wrong. Their story was already great. So I marked out the last three stanzas of my poem and returned to the focus of ordinary saints. 

“Ordinary Saints”

“Worked stained hands

Put shovel to Earth

Planted a seed

Grew a church.”

That is my opening stanza and it perfectly honors the men and women of that lovely little church in Jay, Florida.
Carol Ingram, a writer and Spiritual Director living in Eads, Tennessee. Carol has been married to her high school sweetheart, Terry for over 30 years. They have two sons, both whom are married and one granddaughter. Carol is a recent graduate of the 2-year Academy for Spiritual Formation, completed her training as a Spiritual Director with the Benedictine Sisters in Beech Grove, Indiana and is trained as a Stephen Leader. She is a member of Collierville United Methodist Church and a member of Collierville Christian Writers. This is her first published work of poetry and prayer. Out of Chaos is a small collection of poetry, prayers and photography released by beardsANDbicycles.

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