Sunday, August 1, 2010

Poetry for Fiction Writers

I am not a poet. I loved poetry up until I was about fifteen. I loved writing it and reading it. I was obsessed with all the female poets who’d gone insane. Then I stopped, for no good reason other than I wanted to write longer things with plots and characters.

Now I am suddenly faced with having to teach a section on poetry in an Intro to Creative Writing course. Panic. So I turn to Ron, fellow inkpot blogger and Hamline faculty who recommended In the Palm Of Your Hand by Steven Kowit and The Poet’s Companion by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux. Turns out I already had them on my bookshelf, likely purchasing them after one of his brilliant lectures years ago. I also have Rules For the Dance by Mary Oliver, along with one of my favorites because it describes poetry forms in such a clear and simple manner that even I, a nonpoet can understand: A Kick in The Head by Paul Janeczko.

In reading up on poetry, thinking about it, going through some of my long-forgotten favorite poets, I also conjured up from the depths of my brain two poems that I wrote when I was five. I wrote them on yellow lined notepaper in big, fat letters, but they only exist in memory now. These poems may explain my interest in mad poets, as well as why I no longer consider myself a poet—not because they are so terrible, but because I don’t think I could write anything nearly as profound today. However because it is a Sunday and the first day of August, I am willing to share: (remember I was five.)

My car died one day.
I couldn’t understand.
Why do things die?
Why oh why oh why?

Once when I was little I said,
“I won’t! I won’t! I’m dead!”
That’s it.
A one, a two, a three,
The end of me.


  1. I love those. Coincidentally, my husband and I spent a large portion of today going back through our old angst-ridden junior high poetry. None of our poems were as profound as those, but we found a few surprising gems. My husband calls them "past presents."

  2. Tell your husband I'm stealing that.

  3. Lisa, I second the recommendation of A KICK IN THE HEAD. My copy is buried somewhere in my mess of a house, and I miss it. I bought another form book, Mark Strand and Eavan Boland's THE MAKING OF A POEM, to replace it, thinking I needed a more grown-up, in-depth reference. But KICK IN THE HEAD is way more fun.

  4. I think my last decent poem was one I wrote in junior high:

    I sure do wish I was a bear
    Wreaking havoc everywhere
    And when the Nat'l Guard comes by
    I'll poke the generals in the eye.

    We used Writing Poetry by Robert Wallace as a text when I was in college. It's from the same publisher as Janet Burroway's Writing Fiction. Good luck on the poetry class!

  5. I think also this post connects to Kelly's about emotion. Here's a five year old who honestly conveys emotion in a wonderfully direct way without a lot of puff. Just straight to the point. I like the idea of finding that five year old when we write, and get to the point.

  6. Ah, the inner five-year old. Clearly mine is still alive and tearing the eyes off his inner teddy bear. But a lot of people lose track of theirs as they get older. Maybe the trick is get older but not mature.

    Since I never wanted to be profound and was always bored by what my teachers called profundity, it's been easy for me to keep writing poetry. I just don't take it seriously. I never thought I'd be a famous poet and the reputation that I have comes as a surprise to me. What a pleasure to write whatever I want and be rewarded too!

    For a poet I admire and who is stone cold profound and a freaking heartbreaker, try Lucia Perillo's THE BODY MUTINIES. I introduced her a few months ago. She rolls out on stage in her wheelchair and just knocks everybody's socks off.

  7. P.S. By the way, Lisa. Why wouldn't about 12 more poems like these plus illustrations-by-you make a killer picture book?

  8. Yes, Lisa's poems are wonderful. I recognize the rhythm in them as the samey way she speaks now. A two syllable sentence. Wow, you do it all the time with out knowing it, Lisa. Amazing.

    I've been thinking that a great picture book
    would be about Buddy the poetry cat and his poems about living with a poet. If I don't get around to it soon, we could make it a MFAC group project :) with Ron's permission.

    I'm a little nervous. On wednesday night, half of the entire KC Metro poetry group are coming to visit my poetry group. What they don't know is there's only one other person is in the group, and we've only met three or four times out of the 6 we've posted. It should be a scream-- hopefully not literally. We are going to talk about magic landscape poems from the section from "In the Palm of your Hand." I call them Dream Landscape poems.

    In January I had this brilliant brain wave that I'd meet people in town I could actually relate to, if I became a poem and started a poetry group. So far this has been sort of a joke except for my poetry blog which is fun. I also found out there are only about a dozen or so poets in the KC metro area who admit they are poets.

    It's going to be a long climb. I may try basket weaving next.

  9. sorry, not "be a poem"-- be a poet. I hope there is a difference.

    p.s. Ron where can I find a published copy of the poem you read in your lecture? --about deciding to become a poet?

  10. an existentialist at age 5, already!