In post past I’ve discussed how poetry can lead us to a great understanding, can be a call to witness, and can lead us to appreciation of nature and humanity. But that is not all poetry needs to say. The poet Stanley Moss describes poetry as “a carnival of word play.” I ask, how does poetry really come together and say something? We believe we have lots to say. We study forms, words, metrical patterns (or not), other poets, newspapers, and even other genres to give us help.
Here are some thoughts to improve our skills:
1. Slow down, and “smell the roses.” If we rush through our writing, we may miss words and lines that require closer inspection. My work-out trainer constantly has to remind me to slow my movements, let my muscles feel the work. If we speed out the door, we could miss that charming bluebird.
2. Manage effectively your expectations. Start writing without thinking about winning a contest. Get it down. Then get it good.
3. Don’t like what you’ve written? Before you throw it away, look through it and find at least one word or line that you do like. Put it down on a 3 x 5 card, save it for something else.
4. Manage distractions in your writing space. Set aside time. If you can’t write, then at least read. Maybe read a poem you don’t understand. Exercise your brain to dissect it until you find a meaning that satisfies you.
5. Free up your writing to find its own form. Truth be told, there is an organic process to what you write. It may show itself as a natural form to your poem. And if it comes together more like prose, then fine. You are seeking energy here.
We say what we say. We write what we write. Simple, yet complex. What we feel within us can stir us so magnificently that our writing becomes this unified strength. Here is something I am working on in a forthcoming manuscript:
Life and Death
“My feet stay cold
in black water
like some blood’s trickling
in hard rock veins
I’ll die too young
to see my age”
What will your poetry say to you, that you can say to your readers?
Sara M. Robinson, founder of the Lonesome Mountain Pro(s)e Writers’ Workshop, and former Instructor of a course on Contemporary American Poets at UVA-OLLI, was poetry columnist for Southern Writers Magazine and inagural poetry editor for Virginia Literary Journal. She has served as guest lecturer at UVA’s College at Wise, Wise, VA. Her poetry has appeared in various anthologies, including We Grew Wings and Flew (2014), Scratching Against the Fabric (2015), Virginia Writer’s Club Centennial Anthology (2017), Blue Ridge Anthologies and Mizmor Anthology (2018). Journals include: Loch Raven Review, The Virginia Literary Journal, vox poetica, Jimson Weed, Whisky Advocate, and Poetica. She is poet and author of Love Always, Hobby and Jessie (2009), Two Little Girls in a Wading Pool (2012), A Cruise in Rare Waters (2013 Stones for Words (2014), Sometimes the Little Town (2016), a finalist for the Poetry Society of Virginia’s 2017 Book Award. In 2019, Needville, her poetry about effects of coal mining on SW Virginia was released and in 2020 debuted as play in Charlottesville. Her most recent publication is Simple River (2020, Cyberwit).