Monday, April 18, 2016

You Write, I Write, We All Write Poetry Part 1



Finding The Words

I think it's safe to say that every one of us has, at some point, written a "poem."

Many people turn to writing when our emotions are on high alert. Falling in love, falling out of love, having a baby, the passing of a loved one — such events always have an emotional context, and it is emotion that is the most basic stuff of poetry.

There are no rules regarding how you express your feelings in written form. You can just let it all hang out. When you write about emotional events, you're really just engaging in a kind of catharsis — letting go of what is boiling around in her head or your heart. There are no rules because, really, there are no expectations from a wider audience. Such personal writing is usually just for yourself, or maybe for one or two other people who are close to you.

Your poem can rhyme or not. Your poem can have some cadence or not. Your poem can evoke images or not. The main point is that you're simply trying to put down in words what you feel.

Of course, sometimes the whole experience fails. You read over what you've written and say, "Ugh ... that's not what I mean at all," and you smush your poem into a crumpled ball and pitch it in the waste basket.

Well, it's no wonder. The process of converting feelings into words is never an easy one.

Feeling are wishy-washy, abstract things, not something you can hold in your hand or inspect under a microscope. They're as ephemeral as the air. So, no, you can't see feelings, can't smell them, can't hear them, can't taste or touch them. You can only express them, sometimes in actions such as crying, but more often in words.

Words are generally used to describe concrete things, things you actually could hold in your hand and inspect under a microscope. Words want to convey something others might see, smell, hear, taste or touch, something any reasonable person can relate to and understand.

We're pleased with a poem when the words we choose to describe our feelings make sense, when someone reads them and says, "I get it." So, when writing a poem, that is what we strive for — some kind of combination of words that convey what we feel.

Let's say that, for some reason, you are ecstatically happy. You might write:

I'm happy, happy, happy

Got it. You're happy. I have no idea why you're happy, but you sound happy. Even better, I'm sort of happy for you, because I know what happiness feels like.

It's very simple, but it's clear and to the point.

Of course, not many people would stop at one line. We like to stir the pot a bit, add some flavour and some spices to enhance the expression of our emotion.

So, you might add another line or two:

I'm happy, happy, happy
I'm happy that you love me
I hope that doesn't sound too sappy


Again, got it. You're happy because someone loves you. I can relate to that emotion as well. It's cool to feel loved, and no, it's not too sappy, even if your rhyme is really quite crappy. Still, I'm OK with that. You thought you had to have rhyming words in a poem, so no harm, no foul.

Unfortunately, what you've written is not a poem. It's merely a statement of being, a record of how you feel at a particular time.

So, what is missing? What might make this statement a poem?

Poetry is all about comparing the abstract to something concrete. Say you had written a simple idiom:

I'm as happy as a lark

Here, you would have compared your happiness to a lark. It looks like a poem, but to be honest, I have no idea what connects happiness to a lark. Does your happiness have feathers? Does it sit in a tree and drop poops on the patio?

Since I know this is a standard phrase, a fairly common idiom, I also know that you are comparing your happiness to the lark's song, which I am supposed to assume is beautiful. Quite honestly, however, I have no idea what a lark sounds like. So, for me, there is no communication, no transference of feeling. It's just a common expression that I'm supposed to understand, but I don't. I've never seen a lark, little alone heard one. I simply have no context to share your emotion with you.

Maybe if you wrote:

I'm as happy as the first ray of sunshine on a dark winter's morning


Now, this I can understand, because my mind's eye can see that first ray of sunshine. What you have done is create an image. Not only can I "see" it, I can also "feel" it. It's warm, right? So, it makes me think of some kind of harbinger of change. The cold night is giving way to the warmth of sunshine, which picks you up, similar to the way happiness picks you up.

So, now, your obvious statement of fact has turned into poetry.

Simple.

 










 








 
 


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