I’m in my third semester of a creative writing class at my community college, which has been great for not only helping to improve my novel writing, but expanding the kinds of writing I’m doing. Poetry is one of these bonuses.
I wouldn’t consider myself a poet. I mean, I started out novel writing by writing poetry first as a way to loosen my pen (and then published it in my book Everything I Am Not Saying). But in my very first semester of creative writing, my professor was a poet, and she obviously was not a fan of my clumsy efforts of writing poems.
Truth. I suspect she held me to a different standard than the other students because I was already publishing books, and she wanted to knock me down a peg or two because poetry was in her wheelhouse and not mine.
Or, maybe I really did suck.
At any rate, the last two semesters have been with a different professor who has completely reshaped and improved the way I write. My first professor had me believing I should just leave poem writing to the experts. My new professor showed us the guts of the poem, and let us experiment, and then found the gems in every one of our efforts.
I thought I’d share some of the poems I wrote in this class, along with the background of each one.
Here we go.
My professor is a huge Emily Dickinson fan, and in our poetry segment, he assigned about a dozen poems to read by her. When you read Emily Dickinson, the first and most obvious thing you notice about her poems is the rhythm. Every other line is a beat of 6 or 8. She also, usually, has a rhyming scheme to them. So when I wrote this poem about Emily Dickinson, I wrote it in the same style. Another thing about Dickinson poems is the incredible way she uses symbolism. You can read one of her poems many times through, and each time you might discover something new about it or some hidden meaning. Some of her simplest poems are actually her most complex.
This poem is not that complex, but it’s just an ode to her incredible writing talent.
Did Emily measure as she wrote,
counting for six or eight?
Or did the lines come naturally,
the rhythm left to fate?
Did metaphors and similes
pour from her fountain pen?
Was symbolism crystal clear
and imagery her friend?
As she scribbled swirling words
were same sounds on her mind?
Was assonance a sense of ease,
or leave her disinclined?
When Dickinson set her pen to note
did all the birds stay still?
Or did she scream with writer’s block,
throwing her feathered quill?
And tell me ‘bout Em’s thesaurus.
Does it even exist?
Or do the words fall in her lap,
begging to assist?
If Emily were here today,
would she still be Nobody?
Could she still live a quiet life
while writing poetry?
And would we know her words today,
ones found after she died
when everything’s a click away
and art is cast aside.
Or would she leave us with a meme,
unite us with her words.
Tell us hope has many feathers
‘til we wish we all were birds.
Poet William Carlos Williams wrote a very short poem called “The Red Wheelbarrow.” It goes like this:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
The poem is simple in form, and meditative to read. But the meaning behind it is so much deeper than just a wheelbarrow in the rain with chickens, and it’s been debated as a poem about agriculture, laborers, and race.
This poem could really be about all three. Williams explained that The Red Wheelbarrow “sprang from affection for an old Negro named Marshall. He had been a fisherman, caught porgies off Gloucester. He used to tell me how he had to work in the cold in freezing weather, standing ankle deep in cracked ice packing down the fish. He said he didn’t feel cold. He never felt cold in his life until just recently. I liked that man, and his son Milton almost as much. In his back yard I saw the red wheelbarrow surrounded by the white chickens. I suppose my affection for the old man somehow got into the writing” (Journal of Modern Literature).
This explanation about a “simple” poem hit a chord with me, and showed me just how complex poetry can be. And so I wrote my own Williams-style poem, trying to embrace symbolism and simplicity in a meditative form.
In the Shade
under the giant
in the shade of
stretches its quiet
Then there’s this final poem. This was a free-form poem that wasn’t inspired by anyone, but came to me when I was looking up at the night sky and noticing a bright satellite traveling across the Big Dipper. I have always loved studying the night sky, but especially so since I took an astronomy class. So when I looked up and saw this satellite, the words to this poem started flowing through me and I had to write them down.
P.S. This poem was written before I knew anything about SpaceX’s launch of Starlink satellites, which you can see in the sky as trains of lights in the night sky made up of 60 satellites currently on the same orbit. I wrote about it here.
this morning I stared
at the stationary stars
outlining ancient constellations
feeling breathless and full
feeling small yet adored
under a sky made
of infinite celestial space
when a solitary satellite
carving through God’s designs
diverted my attention
swaying my reverence
as I followed its journey
a crawl across the heavens
as it brightened like a beacon
as if this manmade creation
were as celestial as the stars.