National Poetry Month: Thinking Like a Poet
I get asked many questions many times by many folks…all about the same subject:
“When did you start writing poetry?”
“Why do you write poetry?”
…and so forth. The answers, while simple, could be more elaborate if I wanted to take the time: Yes; almost forever ago; and because I have no other choice.
It’s not that I don’t want to take the time to offer more detailed responses; it’s just that most people aren’t really looking for that. It’s like when the cashier at the grocery store asks, “How are you?” She’s expecting a nice, short, “Good” so she can continue on about her duties. If you respond with, “Well, my dog died, I lost my job, and I just found out my wife is cheating on me with someone from the NSA…want to hear about it?” chances are, she’ll drop the eggs on the floor and not know what to do.
Better to keep the answers safe and simple, and not throw any curveballs.
But since this is my final blog post for National Poetry Month, I thought perhaps I could expand on some of my answers and try to explain – especially to non-poetry types – why poetry is not some sort of worthless academic pursuit and can actually be beneficial in your life.
Thinking like a poet: how?
First of all, it helps to think like a poet. Understanding poetry means understanding that there is always much more to life than just…life. By that, I mean, everything you see, touch, or experience is much more than what it appears to be.
A nonfiction writer friend once asked me to help her think like a poet. She wanted her writing to be less dry and a bit more creative and lyrical. So as an exercise, I placed a small, empty, white plastic coffee creamer cup on the table and asked her to make a list of everything that came to mind. Not just adjectives describing the cup, but every word, phrase, or vision that popped in her head – even if it didn’t make sense. I did the same, and timed us both for 2 minutes.
When we were done, we compared lists. She had words like ‘white,’ ‘drink,’ ’round,’ ‘striated,’ etc. Although we shared some of these obvious descriptors, mine were generally a bit more…imaginative:
‘Upside-down top hat.’
‘Cup runneth over.’
‘A White Hole. ‘ (Instead of a Black Hole.)
The exercise demonstrated that while she saw things as they were, I saw things as they could be. Just that one lesson opened her eyes as to how a creative type such as a poet views the world: with imagination, curiosity, and an open-mindedness that allows us to believe anything can be more than it seems. Indeed, there is more to nearly everything than meets the eye – and if you are willing to take the time to observe long enough, you can begin to view life through a poet’s eyes.
Thinking like a poet: why?
This is where things can get really interesting. I’ve found, over the years, that having a poet’s thought process allows me to conceive ideas from angles that others may not see.
This has been especially useful in radio copy writing, believe it or not. On more than one occasion, I have had to come up with commercial scripts that are unique, attention-getting, and most importantly – relatable to the listener. While different copy writers use different means to find an emotional connection with the listener for the product or service about which they are writing, I find that thinking like a poet (e.g., trying to find connections and imagery others might not see) has served me well.
Not that thinking like a poet means you have to rhyme – I’m primarily talking about thinking more creatively and making unusual connections – but let me share an example of how poetry really did work in my favour. A local restaurant needed to let people know they existed – their location, while prime, was at a 4-way intersection and easy to miss. But it was a small, family-style restaurant that, at first blush, did not appear to offer anything out of the ordinary.
What to do?
Now, normally I absolutely detest rhyming commercials. You know the ones…they always sound amateurish and dumb, and are a total tune-out. But I knew I could write a good one – and if I did it right, it would be ear-catching, memorable, and successful at getting its message across to listeners. The following commercial was written out of a need for listeners to know who the client was, where they were located, and what they offered:
Note two important things about why this commercial worked and most rhyming commercials don’t: One, I kept the lines metrical. I was very careful about keeping the script flowing and fun – too many words per line (or the wrong words) and the commercial would just collapse under its own weight. The other thing I did was refrain from using “easy” rhymes. I could have written a line that ended with “toast” and rhymed it with “most,” or used “steak” and “bake.” but that would have made the commercial sound cheesy and predictable – which I definitely did not want.
The unusual rhymes and bouncy cadence of the verse is what made the commercial work, in my opinion – and although any person could write a rhyming commercial, without the skill of writing metrically and knowing how to rhyme effectively, the commercial would not have been as humourous or, more importantly, as effective.
Thinking like a poet: when?
All the time! The more you start to actively think about the things around you – from your home and family to things as simple as the car you drive, the road you travel on, or the food you eat – the more you’ll start becoming aware of all the possibilities for inspiration there are out there.
Think about possibilities, think about similarities and differences, think about “what if!”
“What would a picture of my kids look like, if I couldn’t include their faces?”
“A home with no windows or doors is like a _____.”
“If I could take this elevator anywhere, where would I go?”
“Why might a pencil be considered a religious talisman?”
“What if crows were a different colour?”
Yes, these are pretty random questions – but they can be examples of ways of thinking beyond what is comfortable and concrete. Question why an apple is red, but not because of any botanical reason. Imagine what love would look like if it could be held in your hand.
Wonder to yourself how to describe music to a deaf person or a sunset to someone who has been blind from birth.
Think about that little coffee creamer cup, and see what you can create out of it in two minutes. You might surprise yourself!
Poetry = Life
For me, I’ve always enjoyed the rhythm and rhyme of words and the imagery a writer can create – whether it is via a poem, short story, or other form of writing. Poetry, though, is a perfect vehicle for showcasing compact vignettes of emotion, enlightenment, pain, and all sorts of fascinating aspects of humanity. The poet takes a scene, feeling, or object and distills it down to it’s essence – and sometimes goes even beyond that, to create new associations with other scenes and feelings the reader had never before connected
I started reading picture books of poetry as a child, and began writing poetry in earnest in high school. Since then, I’ve written poetry and songs throughout my life because I have a compulsion to do so. Most writers will tell you the same thing, too – that they write because they have this urge inside, this burning desire to get something in their head out on paper.
Poetry can be quite hard to write, but also immensely fulfilling. Even short, 3-line haiku poems, which might seem simple, are much more complex than they may seem. Sort of like humans.
And come to think of it, that observation might make a good poem.
Only TWO DAYS remain to poet Irene Latham’s 2014 Progressive Poem! Each day throughout the month of April, a different poet has added a line to the poem, and we are very close to completing our journey!
Today it heads over to Ruth at There is No Such Thing As a God-Forsaken Town, but here is the complete list of contributors:
1 Charles at Poetry Time
2 Joy at Joy Acey
3 Donna at Mainely Write
4 Anastasia at Poet! Poet!
5 Carrie at Story Patch
6 Sheila at Sheila Renfro
7 Pat at Writer on a Horse
8 Matt at Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme
9 Diane at Random Noodling
10 Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference
11 Linda at Write Time
12 Mary Lee at A Year of Reading
13 Janet at Live Your Poem
14 Deborah at Show–Not Tell
15 Tamera at The Writer’s Whimsy
16 Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge
17 Margaret at Reflections on the Teche
18 Irene at Live Your Poem
19 Julie at The Drift Record
20 Buffy at Buffy Silverman
21 Renee at No Water River
22 Laura at Author Amok
23 Amy at The Poem Farm
24 Linda at TeacherDance
25 Michelle at Today’s Little Ditty
26 Lisa at Lisa Schroeder Books
27 Kate at Live Your Poem
28 Caroline at Caroline Starr Rose
29 Ruth at There is No Such Thing as a Godforsaken Town
30 Tara at A Teaching Life
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