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:
- 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.
- 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.