July 16, 2020

Why Do We Care About How Poems Come About?

Sara Robinson
Southern Writer Contributor

I recently received the poetry book, Brute (Winner of the 2018 Walt Whitman award), by Emily Skaja. This manuscript of some 30+ poems almost stands as one long poem. The book is about a relationship, and not a good one. There are many passages in there that could be universal to many women, for instance. So, it becomes relatable. When a poet writes about personal experiences, the context is less clinical and more emotional.

Having said that, we may not be so interested in all the details of emotional experiences of the writer that led to the work, as we are in how the quality of the poems are.

We look for intention and then beyond that meaning. For with those two aspects we can gather what appeals to the reader. Now as writers we don’t want to burden our readers with deep background of ourselves. For one thing they may not even care, and for another how could we select whose was instrumental in the creation of our poetry. Our business is to write compelling poetry and theirs is to be moved or inspired.

We use the words we’ve been collecting in our personal “poetry generator machine,” to give us the settings, be they of tone, place, or time. These are the dimensions of poetry and while we fixate on tying all these together, we let our imaginations and our experiences add the dimension of depth. Recall that I have touched on these in past columns. So, how do our poems come about? Poet A.E. Housman generally composed his poems during afternoon walks. Relaxed and maybe a little drowsy from his lunch, his mind was free to wander among the weeds and hills. Sometimes our poems are spontaneous, jumping out of a lake, or a glass of whisky.

While I don’t know if the poems in Brute were spontaneous, I must believe they evolved from intense emotional pain and disappointments. So maybe her intentions were to heal herself and then this collection came about to share the meanings she found.

When poems come about, from whatever source, we see the service to poetry. How do you see your service? Do you have a “muse” or inspiration that primes your writing pump?

As you continue the path that is your writing, I hope you will be inspired by one person whom I found quite philosophical, Yogi Berra. “When you get to the fork in the road, take it.” Happy Writing!

Author of Sometimes the Little Town (her fifth book and fourth poetry collection), is founder of Lonesome Mountain Pros(e) Writers’ Workshop, former UVA-OLLI instructor on Contemporary Poetry, and poetry columnist for Southern Writers’ Magazine. Published in journals and anthologies, she is a former Virginia Writers’ Club and Blue Ridge Writer’s Chapter officer.  Her most recent book, Needville has now been turned into a play.


  1. Sara, very interesting post. Thank you for sharing this information. I always come away after reading a post from you wanting to try my hand at poetry. You are very inspiring.

  2. Me, too, Susan. I do want to understand poetry better.