Why I Write Poetry

Why I Write Poetry

A few weeks ago Robert Lee Brewer, Writer’s Digest Poetry guru, put out a call for essays from poets to explain why they write poetry.

The why isn’t easy putting into words. And I’m not sure I even touched on the real reason. Like onions, there are layers of poetic insight and reflection. The simple answer is more like–I write poetry because . . .  just because.

  • Because it is.

Frankly, I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t.

If you write poetry, why? If you don’t, why not?

Here’s my essay which was published on the WD site:

Why I Write Poetry


Our Last Day

Our Last Day

Our Last Day

for your eyes that were never fragile
for your thoughts that were never buried
for your heart that never collapsed

in the center of fear nor rose in the fertile
valley of praise and flatter

I would remain
one more day
and one more day without end
inside our own little sphere
of safety here in the highland fields.

2017 April PAD Challenge: Day 10

Puddles of Sodium

Puddles of Sodium

Puddles of Sodium

A driving sleet is splattering the rows of unsealed windows in my Anatomy and Physiology lab, dripping over the cockeyed signs that proclaim the college is committed to maintaining a safe environment and to dispose of waste materials in the biohazard bins. I’ll stare at the same signs in Chem lab this afternoon.

Today, pinned to our dissecting tray is the exoskeleton of a baby shark exposing its internal organs.

Despite the plastic goggles, my eyes already sting from the embalming materials. For some reason, all the guys in this lab wear flannel and I want to wipe my tears with the tails of their shirts.

My lab partner chuckles, I lean my elbows on the black-chipped counter to take a peak. He is skewering the stomach tissue and swears as he tweezers out a glob of tissue and hair—the shark’s last meal. My cheeks are quivering from squinting at slender threads of arteries and veins. I sigh heavily. “What is this?”

The cute teacher’s assistant hurries over, slings off his goggles, and rocks excitedly on his wartime metal stool. The class is now a crowd “oohing” and “ahhing”, faces deep inside our splayed shark.

Some are kneeling on the stools, some are kneeling on the table. I step back and all I can see is a blurred cloud of red and black flannel and the soles of hiking boots, imprinted with the heavy blue-tinged brine of road salt. I absent-mindedly try breaking down the formula. NaCl, CaCl2, or maybe MgCl2.

Someone yells, “tooth!” and the crowd erupts into cheers.

2017 April PAD Challenge: Day 5

On the Verge of Discovery

On the Verge of Discovery (1)

“On the Verge of Discovery”

Was it the Champagne beach
or the canopy bed?

Was it the bouquet garni
or the breezy flirting?

Maybe it was the harmonizing
of Quiet Houses and laughter.

No one can point to the dawn and say it began here
or there in that valley or over this horizon.


The artist who builds only one castle in the air will never
ride bareback in Arcadian fields.

The child with just one tear cannot charm a mother for
one more song.

The lover who ties bows on regret will one day transform into granite.


Are we the wild horses
or the weeping canvas?

Are we the lullaby
or are we the stone?

2017 April PAD Challenge: Day 4

A Challenged Poet

Being poetic can be hard work.

My hands smell like Lysol. The washing machine is churning. A child is recovering from Influenza and coughing so deeply I cringe with guilt. In the back of my mind are the other items on my to-do list waiting for me: dusting, dinner, vacuuming.

But, writing poetry is not on that list. It’s never on my list. Scheduling poetry seems counterintuitive to me.

But, maybe it shouldn’t.

Dreaming isn’t working.

I used to dream about sitting near the seaside with a notebook, scribbling random pithy thoughts that I’d later form into a lofty poem.
person-802075_1920Even though I live only minutes away from several lakes and a half hour from one of the greatest lakes–Lake Michigan, I have never sat on a pier and dangled my feet in the water and written a poem. Not even close. I wonder why. It seems so easy. I imagine phrases and cadences springing onto the notebook with grace and sophistication and intrigue.

Isn’t writing poetry that simple? Just escape to your favorite nature hideaway with a worn moleskin notebook. Watch the geese, feel the breeze, then scrawl your pen or flex your fingers over your keyboard and voilà . . . a refreshing sculpted poem.

Reality check.

Most of the time, for me anyway, it is not that simple. I doubt my word choices. I wonder if I’m leaving out something. I wonder if I’ve over written. Did I choose the wrong point of view to tell this poem? Nine times out of ten, I’m dissatisfied and I toss away the verse.

Poetry is not my bread and butter. It’s a hobby, as my husband likes to remind me. But, if it’s a hobby, why does it cause me grief? Why do I struggle to write one pure line of poetry?

Simple is hard work.

Dejan Stojanovic wrote: “The most complicated skill is to be simple.”

Like the ballet dancer who practices until her feet bleed but her performance looks effortless. We watch in awe of her talent not taking into account her trials. Or the pianist who plays scales for three hours every morning in preparation for a concert. We listen and hear beauty but we don’t see the struggles.

I have to believe that writing poetry is challenging to me because I want the end result to read simply and effortlessly. Not choppy. Or at least not incomprehensible. To look simple takes a great deal of work. I have come to realize that  my challenge to myself has been to write truth with purity.

That means I need to continue to learn and to grow as I seek to be simple but elegant. Simple but profound. Simple but captivating.

And that takes work.

Scheduling poetry practice isn’t such a bad idea after all. If I can schedule my laundry, I can schedule a few precious moments musing over Robert Frost or William Butler Yeats to learn my craft better.

Other challenges:

Speaking of challenges, the April Poem-a-Day Challenge is a few short weeks away. Last year’s April PAD results have recently been posted. What a surprise to learn that two of my poems made it into the top ten. I challenge you to join me next month. Maybe we’ll win one this time.

Also, take a peek at this month’s blog post on MouseTales Press. Thank you to Carol Early Cooney for interviewing me and to Linda Hatton, managing editor, for publishing Carol’s interview. It was fun. (And challenging. I’m not a spotlight type of gal, so this truly was a challenge.)


The Arrogance of Poetry

“Every work of art is, in one sense, a self-disclosure.”

You ‘ve heard the term metapoetry–poetry about poetry.  It’s a poem about the poem itself or some aspect of poetry: feet, iambs, couplets, etc.

Billy Collins has written a sonnet about sonnets that I can’t post for copyright reasons but you can read here: Sonnet by Billy Collins

In ModPo we learned that all poetry is to some extent meta. If there is any literary art form more narcissistic, I don’t know of it. (Well, except for maybe selfies, which could be, I suppose, a form of art at times.)

I grinned when I found this tweet:” Can the conceit of metapoetry avoid becoming poetic arrogance?”

Isn’t that the epitome of metaphor? The poem about the poem, which hasn’t been written by the poem, is considered arrogant. (Cue the chuckling irony machine.)

But, then what about the poet?

Poems are often about the poet. They are often soul-bearing, utra-personal, and shall I say, often whiny in nature and overloaded with self-disclosure.

Self-disclosure: the process by which one person lets his or her inner being, thoughts, and emotions be known to another.

Even if we write about concrete or the winter storm or wrinkly feet, the poem is reflective of the word artist and their narrators, disclosing  multiple facets such as:

  1. Depth of simile ideation
    Example: My thoughts are as slimy as wet concrete.
  2. or weather prejudices
    Example: I abhor the romance of spring.
  3. or the abnormal
    Example: He dreamed about her foot fungus with anticipation.
    Poetically gross.

So why do poets allow themselves to be so overtly vulnerable?  What need do they have that is served by writing short works of art about their deepest longing or observations or perspectives?

The art of poetry is to evoke emotion. That’s hard to do if we don’t connect with our own emotions.  “Poetry uses forms and conventions to suggest differential interpretation to words, or to evoke emotive responses.”

Even when we write a poem that says nothing about how we feel, the poem is still about the poet. The choice of subject, form, words, spacing, tone, etc.  is revealing.

In the very least, you reveal what you are thinking about at the moment. I’ll admit, sometimes even that feels too exposing for me.

But, it is arrogance that drives us to write poetry?

The criticism that poetry is arrogant, I believe, comes from the thought that we are essentially pointing a finger at ourselves and saying, listen to me.

Then, we blindly assume that someone, somewhere will actually want to pay attention.

That’s not arrogance.

I’d call that human kinship.