A Lesson in Poetry

If you’ve been reading my end-of-month updates, you know I started writing poetry again this year. I started back in January, right after the death of one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver.

I’ve always been a lover of poetry since grade school where I first started penning verse. My love of poetry continued into college where I stressed over the perfect rhyme schemes and eventually started to experiment with free verse. I also took some poetry workshops in college which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I haven’t written much poetry in the past twenty years, and I don’t know why. After Mary’s death, I decided I wanted to try to read or write poetry everyday. Since January 19th, two days after her death, I’ve kept my promise minus just two days. I started with Mary’s own “Devotions” and now I’m reading a collection of poems by Tennessee Williams.

I often read just one or two poems a day, a task that takes less than five minutes. But it’s inspired me to stop and look and listen to the world around me just a bit closer and to have patience while I’m doing it. I really try to have some sort of personal connection with the words.

Previously, I would have trouble deciding what I wanted to write about. But by doing this devotion and trying to connect with it, I find the simplistic things and suddenly a plethora of ideas for poems are revealed to me. This year I’ve written poems about my alarm clock, a duck, an owl, a dead friend, an ex lover, my favorite writers, my old clarinet, and much more. I finished four poems in January, six in February, and ten in March. I’ve already written two this month, and now have numerous unfinished drafts to work on just by jotting down ideas in a notebook.

Writer and artist Austin Kleon teaches how to “steal like an artist” in his first book (which I highly recommend). I’ve definitely been practicing his suggestions in my poetic efforts. Mary Oliver wrote very simple verse at times; it’s very easy to understand and to connect with her work. So, I’ve tried to “steal” her style and make some of my own work simple and easy to follow, while also making it my own. She also writes very short verses which I like, and she gets to the point of a poem very quickly. She does not get lost in the complexity of words and isn’t out to impress anyone. It’s as if each poem is a personal part of her, which is what poetry should be.

Tennessee’s work is much more complex, and often rhymes. He shows off a lot! But one thing I noticed that he and Mary both did was divide a poem into vignettes with each verse labeled with a roman numeral. I’d seen this style in textbooks but didn’t really understand it, so I set out to learn about it and to create a vignette of my own. I’ve also been taking pictures with my phone to go along with some of my poems. (Austin would be proud of that!)

In case you are wondering, I probably won’t be sharing any of my poems here on the blog anytime soon, if at all. I might decide to share them in some other way. Right now, I’m just enjoying the creative process of writing and reading and learning as much as I can. I’m creating art and doing it for myself, but soon there will come a time when I’m ready to “show my work,” as Austin would say.

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