Some opt for a narrow audience of family members or friends. Big mistake. Most of our family members are not interested and are often quick to say, “But that’s not the way it happened. Don’t you remember… .”
Your job as a poet is not to present biographical details of the lives and incidents in the lives of others, so don’t ask friends and neighbors to critique your work.
You are to find your own focus, your own truth, your own sense of the world. Emily Dickinson told her readers, “Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant,” and this mantra is used frequently by contemporary poets.
I don’t know if she realizes it, but a friend of mine who is a well-respected and a well published writer starts her poetry by asking herself “How did this happen?” “This” could be a murdered girl or a person who has broken all speed records to arrive in time for a birth of a child or a young man from the cornfields of Ohio who is teaching English in Japan.
As a poet you must find your own impetus to tell the truth about your life, about what you understand of the persons who travel through it. What are their stories? And how can you find the form and the words to tell those stories? Does your poetry need to rhyme? No. Does it need to be in nice little couplets or quatrains? No. Can you experiment? Yes, if the experimental form is meaningful.
If you want to write a piece for your church bulletin, you know the limitations. If you want to write a piece for your friends on Facebook, go for it and see their response. If you are writing a poetic piece as a tribute to the woman you love or to your dying grandmother, you know that person well and should be aware of what will resonate with her.
I required my students this semester to write a series of poems or a short story, and my requirements were the following: First, discover something that’s important to you; Second, there can be no “and they all lived happily ever after;” Third, make it so edgy that readers are intrigued, maybe even shocked; work at it until you get the rhythm and the words right, or nearly right; fourth, share it.
Student Jessie Beigel writes about anorexia:
She didn’t choose her demon: it chose her.
Ana came storming into her life with no sirens or warning to run;
When beauty stares, it only sees monsters…
Angie Mullencamp writes of the drowning of a boy: from his sister’s perspective, his mother’s perspective, and his perspective:
Our pond holds secrets dark as the night,
One in particular is the big fight;
My brother hit me, I pushed him into the pond,
Our last moments together, our last time to bond.
I keep my mouth shut, no one can know,
Just the pond and I and my brother below.
Jenna Hooks present four poetic monologues: an unfaithful wife, her lover, her husband, and the drunk driver who killed her:
Two cars collide, a missed stop light, my
body ejected into
Face down lying in the field, muscles
Knowing pain, then
feeling numb, as into the face
of death I come.
Are you inspired? Are you going to email your poetry to me as a word attachment so that I can possibly use it in my April columns? Please do so at email@example.com.