Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

My Life as a Poem

For the first time in 24 years, I’m writing poems.  Back in 1990 when Appalachian Heritage magazine published one of my poems, I thought I’d won the lottery.  But the vein I opened to write those verses dried up when my relationship with another writer went sour. Bitterness does not make good poems, at least for me.

My new verses are not like the ones I used to write. The 2014 poems are raw and extremely personal.  Are they good? I have no idea.  I do know they nudge me awake at four am; they invade my brain while I’m mowing the grass or painting in the studio.  Words and images climb from my gut to my head.  They buzz around inside my brain until I scribble them onto a sheet of paper. You might say I write to get rid of the buzzing.

“Why now?” I asked myself. During the past few weeks several events have come together in synchronicity:  The Color of the Wild

  •  I recently edited a marvelous book by Gin Getz called The Color of the Wild.  Gin’s book includes samples of the amazing poems she writes about her life in the mountains.  She inspires me.
  •  I sent a poem to my 46 year old son and discovered it was one of his favorites, though my choice seemed random at the time. Now I find he’s writing poems again, as he did in high school. I’m going to help him put together a book. He inspires me.
  •  I included a section on dialogue poetry in my new book Dialogue for Writers. Researching poems for the book opened a new line of thought for me. Poems have come a long way since 1990.
  •  I read a poem in the Sunday paper by Andrea Hollander about relationships, and it sounded like me. I said, “I can do this!”

Now I’m studying poetry, thinking poetry, and writing poetry. My favorite reference book is The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser, a U.S. poet laureate. These are nuggets of information I’ve gleaned from his book so far:

  •  “In poetry, the only rules worth thinking about are the standards of perfection you set for yourself.”  What a relief!  This makes writing poetry SO  much more fun.   Poetry Home Repair Manual
  • Poets who use a clear, accessible voice won’t be popular with critics, but they can be of use to everyday readers.  More good news. 
  • Writing something that touches a reader is just about as good as it gets, according to Kooser.
  • “Extensive revision is the key to transforming a mediocre poem into a work that can touch and even alter a reader’s heart.”  I know Kooser is right about this, but at some point editing can squeeze the lifeblood from  a poem.  Knowing when to stop making changes is an art in itself. 

When you write poetry, do you create the poems for yourself only?  Do you write with a sense of “somebody out there” who will read your work?  Kooser says, “Poetry’s purpose is to reach other people and to touch their hearts.”

When I read poetry, I find some poems don’t interest me, while others hold intellectual value—I admire a perfect turn of phrase, a word placed exactly where it should be, or a tricky rhyme.  But the poems I fall in love with are those that  touch my emotions and make me smile, weep, or laugh.   Those poems make me want to be a poet.

In Dialogue for Writers, you’ll find a section on adding dialogue to poetry.

FRONT cover final

Comments on: "My Life as a Poem" (3)

  1. Poetry has always felt so out of reach for me. I have always enjoyed reading it, well at least reading the small amounts I was exposed to in college. When I happened on Gin Getz’s blog more than a year ago, I marveled at her poems and wondered how she could offer words in such a way that I was emotionally moved. It was so powerful. After reading her book, maybe because it was all I did for two days, read, I started noticing that when I saw something beautiful words would flow in my head in the form of poetry. I decided to write some of these thoughts down. I even wrote to Gin and asked her what she thought of these newly inspired poems. She offered me some beautiful wisdom and encouragement. I have written, or at least hit the publish button over 50 times since then, only starting about two months ago. The more I write the more I write. It is such a fun way to unleash my hearts offerings. I am not consciously writing for a reader. I am writing to see what I am honestly feeling. As I edit and play with the words that I have on my paper I start to form more of an opinion about what the underlying message is. It usually helps me to conclude the poem too.
    I completely relate to your thoughts in this post and love that your book offers some dialogue tips when writing poetry. I am looking forward to reviewing your book soon. It hasn’t arrived yet, I am sure it will soon. I will check out the book you recommended. I am really looking for some writing resources since this is all rather new to me.


    • Carrie,
      Thanks for your comments! Gin’s book is inspirational on several levels. I’d like her to write about how to create memoirs. If I need inspiration for my own writing, I just read a few pages of her book. I had the privilege of editing it. What a treat that was!
      I just rec’d my copies of my own book and will put review copies in the mail tomorrow morning.
      I enjoy reading your blog!


      • That is great to hear Sammie, I am happy you enjoy reading my blog. I am also really looking forward to reading your book. I am sure to learn and find some inspiration too.


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