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So you want to write poetry

Good afternoon, friends! It is Thursday and today, we’re talking about…poetry!

Ah, poetry. We could write a lot about poetry, but today, we’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

Depending on your experience with poetry, you may hate or love it. Or you may not mind poetry, but you think it’s not for you because it’s too hard, or too mysterious.

Let’s change some beliefs today.

I firmly believe, personally, that poetry should not be hard to understand. While I know we English majors like analyzing things (because it is fun), some things I don’t think need to be unnecessarily complicated. I do also believe that there is an art to poetry and that you can successfully make it complex without it being complicated. Does that make sense?

Think of it this way. Most of us growing up heard of Dr. Seuss and probably read many of his books…which is poetry telling a story. Does his simplicity make his work any less brilliant? I say no, it doesn’t. His work has made reading fun and accessible, and I believe that it’s even taught children how to read. Besides, I loved getting Oh, the Places You’ll Go when I graduated high school.

But then we get older, and teachers feed us Shakespeare. Again, brilliant but much more complicated. And fewer pictures. It doesn’t help that in most school systems, you are really, forced to read certain poets. Making somebody read anything usually takes the fun out of it. So if you happen to not like Shakespeare’s poetry, and you’re an English major and you don’t understand how you can’t like it, let me reassure you – I don’t love Shakespeare's poetry. Shakespeare is not my go-to poet or writer in general.

But do I constantly read classic poetry? Not at all. Not because it’s not good, but because for the most part, it takes time to understand. To analyze. And I don’t particularly roll with older poetry.

Anyways, like I was saying, I firmly believe that poetry doesn’t have to be unnecessarily hard or mysterious, and I think my writing reflects that. If you’ve enjoyed the two poems I’ve posted, you’ve probably noticed they are not very hard to understand and they are not mysterious. Does this disqualify it from being poetry?

No. I don’t think so.

That being said, I want to share with you one of the best pieces of advice I learned from my professor concerning writing poetry:

Keep your poem grounded.

I repeat, keep your poem grounded.

Here’s an example of a poem that isn’t grounded:

The sky is full of the wonders of the earth - dreams floating past

I’m a giant bubble floating through the rapids of the sky –

Parading, cascading, illuminating hearts –

Rivers flow in me.

Again, this poem is not grounded. What is happening in this poem? I don’t know. Do you know? Nowhere in this poem does the reader have any idea where they are or what’s happening. Eventually, in a poem, you need to come back to a point where a reader can ground themselves – where they can be certain of what’s happening. Don’t be too “meta” – so focused on these big metaphors and being so mysterious that nobody knows what’s happening!

Ground yourself. Make something concrete. If your writing is super flowery (“parading, cascading, illuminating hearts”), but doesn’t have a point of grounding or understanding…then what’s the point?

Don’t be afraid to be literal. That doesn’t make your poem any less complex. What if I wrote:

Lying in bed, dreams float past my head,

luminescent bubbles ready to burst with a single touch

from my fingers, unless I too, transform,

becoming weightless, careless.

I let go of all I know to catch what I can’t grab.

You may be asking, how is this any better than the first example? This is a better draft because I gave you a point of grounding. Do you see it? Right in the beginning: lying in bed. Right off the bat, you know that I’m in bed. I’m in a literal bed. Because I gave you a point of grounding, I can become a little…less grounded. Dreams floating past my head like bubbles…but then another point of grounding, “a single touch/from my fingers”. There. Literal fingers. We’re back to reality. I have fingers. I’m a human lying in bed dreaming and I want to touch the dreams, but I can’t. Grounded. Transforming and becoming weightless…less grounded.

See? That makes a little more sense now because there were two points where you became grounded. I gave you two bits of reality: lying in bed and touching something with my fingers. Don’t be afraid to be literal. I would rather read a poem that I can understand that mentions reality than have a poem I can’t understand but has some really pretty metaphors.

That is all the poetry learning for today, my friends. Keep your poem grounded. Make sure your readers know where you are or what you’re doing. Give them something to hold onto before you go all metaphorical.

So write poetry, stay grounded, and always remember, you are deeply, deeply loved and uniquely created.


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