ĎTis the Season to Write Poetry
by Sage Cohen
the holidays approach in a down economy,
people are seeking alternatives to the typical spending frenzy. The
good news about hard times is that they challenge us to find
creative new ways to give, share and create meaning. Poetry can be a
powerful instrument for conjuring such alchemies.
Poetry canít change our bank statements, but it can change the way
we think about wealth. In fact, it is my lifelong relationship with
poetry that has taught me that income is one thing, but prosperity
is frequently something else.
For example, a few years ago I heard Mary Oliver speak. She reported
that a critic of her poetry complained that she must be
independently wealthy to have so much time to lie around in the
grass and ponder nature. This made the poet laugh, because the
critic was reporting in an underhanded and confused way about a
truth that Oliver tapped into long ago: the act of lying in the
grass and listening to the world IS wealth.
The truth is, we donít need to go anywhere special to tune in to
poetry. Our lives are already inundated with sensory information
that is the raw material of poems. All we need to do is slow down,
pay attention and write down what moves us, intrigues us, or stirs
our curiosity. This does not require an inheritance or a 401K. It
simply requires a willingness to welcome the abundance that is
already ours, and to follow the golden thread of language wherever
it leads us.
What poetry can give us is something far more valuable than money
could ever buy Ė it gives us ourselves. Poem by poem, we write our
souls into existence. Weighted in words, the spirit that animates us
becomes palpable. By the same token, each poem we read offers a
small window into the human condition, in which we may better
recognize some glimmer of our own being.
Ready to tap into this great wealth of poetic possibility? The most
important thing to remember is that your ordinary life
will offer more than enough source
material for poetry. The following exercises are designed to help
you mine your daily experience to see what inspired thoughts and
language might be awaiting you below the surface.
Choose an activity you do regularly that is the absolutely most
routinized, unremarkable event of your day. (Mine would be doing
dishes.) Write down the answers to these questions about it:
Notice the physical feeling of this routine. Which muscles are
involved? What kind of rhythm or tempo does it involve? Are you
cold or hot, energized or depleted?
How do you feel emotionally when you do this?
What are the smells associated with this activity? (I use lavender
soap, so my sink smells like a French garden.)
What do you see when engaged in this routine? (I look out at the
butterfly bush and magnolia tree in my back yard. I enjoy
watching meals erased from plates and glasses.)
What wildlife, plants and trees do you see out your window at home,
at work, or en route? What do they look like, feel like, sound like?
What are their names? What are the visual cues and references in
your home and/or workspace?
Think of someone you see regularly in passing but do not know well,
like your mail carrier, barista or neighbor. Write a poem that
imagines what their life might be like:
Who do they love?
What have they lost?
What do their pajamas look like?
What are their aspirations?
What do they eat for breakfast?
Explore your holiday archives:
What was your biggest holiday surprise?
What holiday is most meaningful to you and why?
Who do you yearn to see during the holidays?
How has Santa (if you have a relationship with Santa) satisfied
you and let you down over the years?
What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened around
the dinner table with your family at holiday time?
What outfit comes to mind when
This should give you a foundation of source material to start
playing with. Circle a few words or phrases that interest you, and
let those be the kindling for your poetic fire.
Donít know where to go next? Freewriting can be a useful way to take
your ideas and language a little further into the realm of the
poetic. Set your timer for 10 minutes, sit down with your notebook,
and keep that hand moving across the page, no matter what, without
stopping, for the entire 10 minutes. Youíre not trying to be
brilliant here Ė just to get loose and let words start coming
without thinking too hard. The more you practice, the looser youíll
get. And the looser you get, the more your language will surprise
and delight you.
Eggnog, move over. Rudolph, thereís a brighter light guiding our
sleigh tonight. Iíve never experienced any holiday cheer that rivals
the state of grace that poetry invites into our lives. That is why I
often give poems Iíve written as holiday gifts. I print them on
pretty paper, place them in an attractive frame, and presto Ė the
most treasured holiday gifts Iíve ever given cost me only the time I
spent creating them.
Try it! You just might get hooked.
is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read
and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry
collection Like the Heart, the World (Queen of Wands Press,
2007). An award-winning poet, she writes four monthly columns about
the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for
VoiceCatcher 4. Sage has won first prize in the Ghost Road
Press poetry contest, been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and been
awarded a Soapstone residency. She curates a monthly reading series
at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the
People. To learn more, visit
www.sagesaidso.com. Drop by and join in the conversation about
living and writing a poetic life at www.writingthelifepoetic.typepad.com!