I wrote this blog post, early in my blog career before I really knew Jade…long before she became involved in Pillow Talk , or we were both part of Chemical [se]X…because Jade is an awesome lady. Listen to her podcast with Rose Caraway, she is one of the most amazing and just completely infectiously wonderful people I know.
I love that she chose to write about poetry, today because she reminds me of when I used to write it myself. She is able to flow from prose to poetry, so that you do not think about her form…you just think about how beautiful her words are…let’s flow into Jade…
Hello everyone! I am delighted to be here today, thanks to the fabulous Miss F Dot inviting me to visit—what a sweetheart! And, since Leonora happens to be one of the most supportive and enthusiastic people I know when it comes to my poetry writing, it seemed fitting that I talk a little about the art of poetry.
Now, before I begin, I must preface this entire this post with an acknowledgment that I am not a true scholar of poetry. I took maybe three workshops and read four books on poetry in my entire life, and at one point I did teach a short workshop, so I could probably whip out some serious terminology if need be (with a manual readily in hand)—but none of that could really allow me to share any more than my own personal experience. Which is to say that, having tried numerous styles and forms, I’ve found I prefer poetry to be a big wide open field to run free in, with no rules boxing me in. Whereas in a story I am crafting with an actual arc in mind, poetry feels completely different—it’s like spilling lines all over a page in an extremely chaotic manner: willy nilly, on a whim, and without any structure or regularity like I plot in my fiction.
All that aside—I do find I keep some straightforward strategies in mind, which are rooted in the verse I wrote in my youth. I’m a pretty happy person, but then, while there was some chaos around me, I found I needed an outlet…and poetic snippets became that very outlet. The goal then was to write an angry rant to the person causing me pain, and since I tend toward the dramatic but generally prefer being nice, I guess my young brain thought the best way to ration this anger was to put it in verse. Then it was pretty anger in neat, organized, flowing lines. ☺ It grew a bit more angsty by my teen years (doesn’t everyone’s?) and tended to center around boys, but I figured out it wasn’t about the rhyme or structure. It was about the message I was trying to convey, and to whom. I remember constantly imagining dropping my journal so whoever I’d intended the message for would finally get it—so when I wrote, I did it as though I had a microphone, and I was finally able to tell the objects of my affection every little thing that was happening in my head.
While most of the stuff I wrote then is utter crap (heck, lots of it still is), the act of writing with all that anger, hurt, and desire provided massive practice in the one to five poems I was writing in a single day. And the strategies I used then still hold when I write poetry now:
Know your intended audience.
Know your message.
Spill it on the page like you’re gushing a secret.
Ursula Le Guin recently said there’s no fancy recipe to writing something, and while I’m no Le Guin (if only!), I have to agree. You have to find what works for you, and in my case, the first two guidelines are what I must know before I sit down to write any piece of poetry, and the third follows rather naturally from there.
Okay, so now that you’ve heard my rambly how-to (without really being a how-to) backstory on writing poetry, I thought I’d share two brand new poems to demo what I’m up to behind the scenes.
This first one got tapped out on my phone last week while I was on an elliptical machine at the gym. It’s a bit on the silly side, but for demonstrating the strategies I mentioned, I think it works:
I watched you on the rowing machine
(Well, tried not to watch
Is how it really went for me),
Hair slicked back as I worked over here
Sweat rolling down the sides of my face,
Letting me imagine what it would be like
Trailing down those sleek sides of yours,
Over the lines of muscle crossing
Your abs, chest and back
(Oh, that back)
Flexing with every shift you make
On that little seat, back and
Forth, back and forth…
I don’t mean to sound smitten,
That’s why I’m biting my tongue
(Imagining biting your tongue)
Wondering if it would be advisable to
Introduce myself, here, in this gym—
To risk my special haven
For those eyes.
But…well now. Wait a minute.
It seems I’m not the only one taking peeks here.
I blush when I look at you—
Because you are staring too.
I turn back to my machine
(That’s why I’m here, right?
Not crushes or lust or love—
Just this godforsaken equipment),
But when I look again
The rowing machine is deserted.
You clear your throat and I nearly jump—
You’re standing right next to me.
You say, “So I was wondering
For every mile that I rowed
If you might be interested
In going out to grab a drink—
After you’re done working out
I smile, and I don’t even care that
I’ve got sweat in my eyes
(It doesn’t seem like you do, either).
You smile back when I say yes.
This machine may be
Kicking my ass,
But I’m thinking that
Drink with you?
That is the best reward
For calories lost
That I could ever dream.
All right. I chose this one because it came to me quickly and easily as far as the strategies I tend to employ. It’s certainly not my best (not even close), but the intention is clear: woman has a crush on gym gentleman (audience) and she wants to share it (message). I’d actually spotted a man sweating rather nicely on a rowing machine when I walked into the gym, and I thought, What if he was the type I tend to crush on and I wanted him to see me over here? How would I feel imagining his approach? And from there the poetic confession came forth!
Okay…now on to another, slightly more erotic poem.
LONGING ON THE SUBWAY
On the subway, I spot her—
Eyes locked on the pages
Of her book as she
Mindlessly plays with her hair,
Long tresses curling about
Her face, of which I can make out
The smooth brow furrowing
As she trails a finger along the lines
Of the text in her lap.
That’s where I long to be.
It’s those legs encased in the
Thinnest sheer fabric,
Crossed at the ankles
As she skims the pages opened up
On her clenched thighs.
From those glorious legs
I could build an entire fantasy—
She strips off her tights,
Showing me the smooth skin along her
Calves and knees, before she parts
Her perfect thighs and beckons me.
She’ll trace fingers up her skin,
Along supple curves leading straight
To her sex, glistening and pink.
That’s where I long to be.
The man beside her jostles her leg
And she lifts her gaze,
She’s all smiles and laughs
And my vision shifts:
Me, tangled round those
Kisses making their way
Up her skin, over her hips,
Fingers stroking rounded thighs
And finding their way up to
All her sweetest spots
But the subway grinds to a halt.
When I rise to leave,
Her eyes meet mine
And I realize that in them—
That’s where I really long to be.
Some of you know that not only is Leonora a sweetheart, but she has amazing legs—this poem was actually inspired by one of her sexy leg photos. When I first saw the image, I immediately pictured a man spying her on the subway, completely captivated by the look of her legs and caught up in that—and then discovering she was much more than the legs (much like our fabulous Leonora). So again I had a message in mind (I love your legs but you’ve won me with your eyes), an audience (the reader, to whom he’s sharing this realization) and the secret spilling happens along the way.
Whether it is erotic, playful, or romantic poetry, those are basically the goals I’m employing before I start drafting. Even when I’m working on more serious, non-erotic poems, I have the same strategies in mind: who is the recipient and what am I trying to say to him/her/them? And from there I write it out like I’m confessing or sharing my secrets.
So, there you have it! My thoughts on writing poetry. I know there are more poets out there, so I’m curious what strategies others use when writing their poetry. Do you think it through beforehand? Plan an arc? Work with rhyme? Choose a structure and work with that? Please share!
In the meantime, I’m sending a huge hug and a giant thank you to lovely Leonora for having me over today!
photo that inspired Jade’s poem, and is being used for the Prompted anthology cover by f dot leonora