At Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the art of writing, he asks, “What does writing teach us?
“… [writing] reminds us that we are alive…and writing is survival…while art cannot, as we would wish, save us from wars, deprivation, envy, greed, old age or of death, he can revitalize us in the midst of it all.
What Bradbury confirms is that stories and poems matter because they are human history. Your (seemingly) benign life is a beautiful narrative, and if you have a gift for telling stories or creating words, it is your responsibility to do so because, “for human beings, not talking is is to die”. (Word, Pablo Neruda.)
April is National Poetry Month and Bradbury proclaims, “Read poetry every day of your life. Poetry is good because it works the muscles you don’t use often enough. Poetry develops the senses and keeps them in perfect condition. It keeps you up to date with your nose, your eye, your ear, your tongue, your hand. And, above all, poetry is a compact metaphor or simile. Such metaphors, like Japanese paper flowers, can expand outward into gigantic shapes, ideas are found everywhere in poetry books, but how seldom have I heard short story teachers recommend them to be perused .
Writers are careful about crafting their sentences, but the longer the piece, the more we can get away with less than perfect diction. This is not the case in poetry. Every word counts. A common misconception about poetry is that since they are usually short, poems don’t take long to create. Sometimes it takes months and years for that draft to simmer. Often the best thing you can do for a poem (or any writing) is to put it in a drawer for a while and not look at it for several days or weeks, so when you see it again it’s is with a fresh look.
Real writing, whether it’s poetry, prose, or screenplay, begins with editing. The word itself, re-vision, means to completely revise your work.
Originally, I started writing poetry to reinforce my prose. I will never be in cahoots with Mary Oliver, Stanley Kunitz or any notable poet, yet I challenge myself to play with words.
The person I am who writes poetry is not the same as me as a prose stylist. On the one hand, I write poems by hand. I need to feel the words winding from my pen to the paper. Then I copy those words into another more readable handwritten draft before typing them into a Word document.
Here is an example of a piece I made after a five day workshop in San Francisco.
In the airport gift shop, the words death
and Plane crash skipping newspaper headlines.
The first lines of a novel that I take announce,
My traveling companion recounts last night’s dream.
“You and I attended a poetry reading in a cemetery.
Poets perched their bodies on tombstones.
When I was a child, I wondered how the world could exist without me,
this infinite universe, my own private amusement park
I controlled by opening and closing my eyes.
Life is an airport hotel.
You fly to a new destination;
Someone else moves into your room.
Here is a poetry exercise to start your day trip poem.
Take an old or recent vinyl album, preferably a double album, and randomly select the tracks (about 10-12) that jump out at you. Use these headings inside the lines of your poem.
Here is my example taken from an 80s double album found at a bookstore sale. You can see I channeled my inner Jack Kerouac.
Henry Mancini’s Greatest Hits
Happy barefoot boy hums
Romeo and Juliet’s love theme
As Nicholas and Alexandra leap
on the continental bridge in troubled water.
“The condor passed”,
said Mrs. Robinson, interrupting
the sound of silence at Scarborough Fair,
thinking his own life would make a great love story.
A well of seven magnificent stars
glow as hazy as a Hawaiian wedding song.
A baby elephant walks under a tree in love
with a Midnight Cowboy and Peter cranking the engine towards Moon River.
Michelle, the girl from Ipanema, does not accept the masquerade.
Dear heart flies like a gunshot in the dark of Norwegian Wood
with all my love, and I love her like the night of a hard day,
even though the raindrops keep falling on my head.
By the time I arrive in Phoenix, the artist
played the Pink Panther theme on seventy-six trombones.
It was good, bad and ugly.
Mr. Mancini, how long have you been gone,
at midday, in the days of wine and roses,
leaving behind the windmills of your mind.
PS Here is a bonus exercise on my website.
— By Laura Moe
Laura Moe is the author of three novels and is chairman of the board of EPIC Group Writers. See the EPICs eventspage for upcoming workshops. She is currently revising her fourth novel and her first screenplay.