She Writes Wild
Week One: Poetry as Play
“Poetry doesn't have to rhyme, it just has to touch someone where your hands couldn’t.”
— Rudy Akbarian (source)
I don’t know about you, but for the longest time, whenever I heard the word poetry my mind would recall agonizing over dense stanzas, trying to suss out their seemingly indistinguishable meanings, and attempting to recreate Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter. Meaning: poetry felt difficult, obtuse, and impossible to understand. It felt painful, like drudgery, like a whole lot of work with very little reward.
But — does it have to be? That’s what we’ll be exploring this week.
Poetry is For Everybody
“Poems hang out where life is.”
— Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, Poemcrazy
Poetry wasn’t always an exercise in masochism. Think back to when you were a child, to the limericks your teacher had you pen and the sing-songing rhymes you sang and silly stories you were read in verse. Were these poems impossible, or headache-inducing? Probably not.
And yet, they are poetry.
Hang on. I can practically hear you thinking, “Well, sure, it’s poetry . . . but poetry for kids. That’s different.”
Nope. Not different. Poetry. And written by respectable, “real” poets.
Take a few minutes to read Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and then “Dream Variations” by Langston Hughes. Next, consider the following:
- what do these poems feel like to read?
- how do they challenge your preexisting notions of what poetry is?
- based on these poems, how might you redefine poetry?
- how have your feelings about writing poetry changed, if at all?
Feel free to journal on any or all of these questions, and to chat about it in the Facebook group.
Poetry Doesn’t Have to be Impossible
What if we threw out the notion that so many of us picked up in high school that poetry has to be impossible, impenetrable, and pain-filled? What if we found ourselves free to write a understandable story in verse form, like “Paul Revere’s Ride,” or to communicate our experiences of nightfall as Hughes does so lyrically and accessibly in “Dream Variations”?
What if poetry wasn’t just for the ivory tower, for academia, but for all of us?
I believe that this is true.
And, more to the point, I believe that it is true for you.
“Is this play, poetry, art or silliness? Who cares?”
— Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, Poemcrazy
The Freedom to Write
I’ve wanted to be a writer for about as long as I can remember. And for me, “being a writer” meant writing fiction books. But interestingly, as an adolescent, whenever I gave myself freedom to write just for me, and not for a school assignment, I found poems tumbling from my pen.
At the very same time that I was struggling through poetry units in school, I was freely creating my own poems at home.
But I dismissed my poetry writing. It felt too easy, not at all like the poems I had to read for school. It couldn’t possible be “real” poetry, I thought, because it was far too opaque, too accessible.
Except — I was wrong. And since giving my poems a chance to stand on their own, I’ve found that they have the strength to do so. Even though they’re not brain twisters. Even though they’re written for you and me, and not only for the highest thinkers (whatever that means!).
Maybe your story goes a little like this, too. Maybe you’ve long held beliefs about the legitimacy of your words, the value of your poems.
I’m here to tell you — it’s time to release those beliefs. They are shackles to your creativity and, as a result, to your personal vitality.
If you have poems that you want to write, or even if you just want to see if you can write poetry, then do it. Let yourself. And then let yourself believe that they are true and real and valuable, for yourself and the world.
Accessible Doesn’t Have to Mean Simplistic
I think that there is another common misconception that leads to us devaluing accessible poetry: that, if a poem is understandable, it somehow is less important, less meaningful, less powerful.
This is not the case. Take Shel Silverstein’s poem “Listen to the Mustn’ts.” Silverstein’s feisty, often-silly poetry was a huge craze in my school when I was ten years old. Kids were reading it on their own, unprompted by parents or teachers, for fun.
And yet — this poem. It is comprehensible, accessible — but packs a punch. It hits me right in the feels. It is the encouragement that I need to read everyday of my life.
Or consider another poem by Silverstein, “Forgotten Language.” This is from The Giving Tree, which we’ll come back to later in the course. Even though this is a very simple poem, without complicated vocabulary, obtuse imagery, or meticulous composed rhyme and meter, I find it hard-hitting. There is so much emotion here, and so many rich levels of meaning — yet, again, it is comprehensible to readers of nearly any reading ability.
There is nothing wrong with poetry that is dense or hard to understand. But often the difficulties we had with poetry during our education negatively impact our abilities to write or believe in our own poems.
How do Silverstein’s words inspire you? How do they challenge you?
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Writing Assignment for Week One: Find Some Poetry
For our first assignment, let’s have some fun and create found poems. According to the Academy of American Poets, “Found poems take existing texts and refashion them, reorder them, and present them as poems. The literary equivalent of a collage, found poetry is often made from newspaper articles, street signs, graffiti, speeches, letters, or even other poems” (source).
Here’s one way I go about creating a found poem.
Found poetry is a great way to ease into writing poems. There is no blank page to face down, no words to conjure up. Instead, all you have to do is play.
Have fun, and share your creations in the Facebook group!
Reading for Week One
Read sections one (Following Words) and two (Listening to Ourselves) of Poemcrazy.
Fill-the-Well Adventure Assignment
Go to the library and check out a children’s book. Read it.
How to Be Creative When You Are Busy by Joe Bunting
How to Overcome the Fear of Sharing Your Writing in Public by Leo Babauta
Newspaper Blackout Poems by Diana Adams
My Inspiration Comes From My Weirdness by Ksenia Anske
Interview with Billy Collins from The Paris Review
Bonus Writing Assignments
Complete the practice activities from this week’s reading of Poemcrazy.
“Play around. Dive into absurdity and write. Take chances. You will succeed if you are fearless of failure.”
― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones