July 17, 2017

Pausing Between Poems: Try Not to Fret When Words "Fail" You

By Terri Kirby Erickson

I've learned over the years, after authoring five collections of poetry, numerous published essays, guest columns, and magazine articles, not to panic when words fail me.  Sometimes my heart, mind, and soul need a break from language—time to just "be" and to take in the wonders of this gorgeous and ever-changing world of ours, without translating my experiences into poems or stories.  At least, not yet. 

Weeks may pass, even months, without my having written anything more than emails to friends and family, and signing the occasional greeting card.  It used to scare me when I wasn't writing.  I'd look at my previous work, books of mine sitting on the coffee table, and wonder how I'd written them and why the "magic" had left me. 

I know now, after a decade of writing (and sometimes not writing) poetry for publication, that taking time off from sitting in front of my computer screen, fingers flying over the keyboard, is a necessary part of the process (for me, anyway!) and that doing "nothing" isn't really "nothing" to a writer.  Taking in what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell in such a way as to recall it vividly for the purposes of writing about it later, is living in the moment at its finest. 

When I hear or read "self-help" type statements like how important it is to be "present" in our own lives, I know without a doubt that I have been and continue to be present and accounted for unless I'm actively writing, which usually means I've left the "now," altogether—this room, this house, this place in time—and have entered the sacred space of recall and reflection from which my best writing flows. 

Of course, others may work best when they get up every morning and start writing something, anything, regardless of how they feel.  Personally, I have to be motivated, moved, and inspired in order to write a poem that, in my view, others might want to read.  If my writing is forced the poems might look pleasant on the page, structurally speaking, but they have no heartbeat, which is the difference between writing what might be a halfway decent, though unmemorable poem, or one your readers won't soon forget.

And I have realized, through experience, that the "dam" of unwritten words will eventually break and the thoughts, feelings, and impressions over however long I've been "away" will coalesce into an attempt to capture on paper what I experienced in real life, or what I make up or imagine as a result of those experiences.  And if this doesn't happen as snappily as I'd like, well, patience is the key.  A writer writes, either now or later.  What we do in the meantime, is to live our lives.  There is no better inspiration than that.
Terri Kirby Erickson is the author of five full-length collections of award-winning poetry, including her latest book, Becoming the Blue Heron (Press 53, 2017). Her work has appeared in the 2013 Poet’s Market, Ted Kooser’s "American Life in Poetry," Asheville Poetry Review, Atlanta Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Christian Science Monitor, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, JAMA, Literary Mama, NASA News & Notes, North Carolina Literary Review, story South, The Southern Poetry Anthology (Texas Review Press), The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, Verse Daily, and many others. Awards include the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize, Nazim Hikmet Poetry Award, Atlanta Review International Publication Prize, Gold Medal in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and a Nautilus Silver Book Award. She lives in North Carolina.​  Her website is  Her bio page is at Press 53:  This is  her the link to her Facebook page: . Her books are  available on Amazon and other Internet sites, and can be ordered at any bookstore.You can contact her at She loves to hear from readers! 

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