Dabbling in Poetry

I’ve spent years writing memoir and essays which were comfortable for my left brain. I like real stories about real people and my reading habits mirror my writing. Give me a memoir or historical biography and I’m happy. Poetry seemed almost mystical and a little intimidating.

While living in a remote, rural area I had no choice but to dabble into poetry; I took a couple of poetry classes at a local community center because that’s all that was offered. From that first poetry teacher, I learned poems don’t have to rhyme which was a big surprise.

Then, my book club read Good Poems, edited by Garrison Keillor. We were each expected to pick a favorite poem and read it to the group. Of course that meant we had to read the entire book and that exposed me to all sorts of poems.

I found I liked those that were straight forward and that told a story, a story I could understand. I didn’t like the poems where I had no idea what was happening.  I wondered why I wasn’t insightful enough to realize that the leaf dangling from the tree limb was a symbol of life. Or death. Or conflict. Or whatever.

Then, when I moved to an urban area where there were many more choices, I became involved with a monthly group called Poetry Breakfast. Truthfully, I joined because I was new to the area and was looking for social opportunities. At least this group had to do with writing, I thought. Since I wasn’t a poet and had nothing to read, I searched the Good Poems book and brought what I liked to the group.

But, I was inspired by the restaurant where Poetry Breakfast met and where the service was quirky beyond belief. Suddenly a poem jumped out of my head that was equally eccentric, sort of Billy Collins-like. I got up my nerve, read it and was happy with the group’s response.

I began writing short poems for the group. I found a Robert Frost compilation in a used bookstore. Now, there’s a story teller. I knew something was happening when I drove three hundred miles to attend a poetry workshop given by a former poet laureate.

The class announcement said to bring six poems. When I counted what was in my poetry folder, I had just six. That meant I qualified. Twelve poets, the instructor and I spent four hours together for three days workshopping each other’s poems.

I marveled at how different the critique of poetry was from my other writing group experiences. In poetry, it’s common to spend ten minutes, sometimes more, debating the use of just one word over another. Then there is the heated debate between the minimalist view and the more flowery, expressive poet.

It was an energy inducing experience to have these prolific, life-long poets acknowledge my work and treat me as a peer. One even said she thought I was a humorist. This has led to other workshops including yet another former poet laureate’s class that focused on the many forms of poetry. There’s a lot more to this than I’d originally thought.

A turning point came when I’d written a 2000 word essay about an emotional incident in my family. I was uncertain I even had the right to put this down on paper in the detail an essay often requires. It took some time and deep thought to express the same feelings in a three stanza, thirty-two line, 138 word poem. I’m sold on the concept that less is often more.

In the recent movie, Paterson, I understood the creative yearnings that fueled the quiet determination of the main character (named Paterson who lived his uneventful life in the town of Paterson). He dabbled in poetry while working each day as a bus driver, walking his dog and visiting a local bar for one beer each night. The blank book given to him by an un-named character in the final scene spoke volumes. Pardon the cliché.

These days, I still dabble in poetry. Certain new words have become common to my vocabulary: alliteration, repetition, internal rhyme, revision. In the midst of observing the oddities of human nature that occur in my day to day life, I often stop and think: there’s a poem in that. Sometimes, I actually write it.

 

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