On Writing Poetry

Poetry, it seems, has a way of bypassing our defenses and getting to the heart of things. As such, I have recently been encouraging some Viet Nam veterans to write poems about their war experiences. None have hesitated and all have come up with powerful testimonies that evoked emotion as each veteran reads his poem.

I have written before about the creative impulse we all have, the Will to Create. Poetry for many is a powerful mode for expressing that Will.

For many of us, we have a favorite poem. Mine is Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” not just because of the beautiful imagery but because the concluding thought “I have miles to go before I sleep” speaks to me in deep ways. Other poems articulate important themes for me. When Frost writes “Two roads diverged in the wood/And I-  I took the one less travelled by/and that has made all the difference”, this captures for me the power of choice-making and the need to not dwell on “The Road Not Taken”. No one articulates my feelings about death like Dylan Thomas does when he writes “Do not go gentle into that good night/ Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Poetry not only captures for us such spiritual themes. It can articulate a moment of joy or tragedy. It can express wonder or terror. Sometimes it is a way of honoring a particular image that haunts us. Some of my own poems have emerged from an encounter with an old coal miner as well as memories of my parents in their living room, my father reading the obituaries.

Here are two thoughts to get you started:

  1. Pick a sound you like and play with it. For example: Mmmm…..Mud…..My mucky mud…My mother minds my mucky mud/But I don’t!
  2. Select an experience and generate images. Here for example is a poem that emerged from a collection of images from a summer at a camp for children with cancer: Young men and women/Cooling their rage with laughter./An errant skunk./Missing limbs and haunting beauty/Loneliness here and there/in the eyes of campfire watchers./Thunder at 3PM./Sunrise — a glimpse of God’s smile/on little ones wise beyond their years./A sadness in places as word passes/that someone didn’t make it./Hope — joyful, shouting, prank-filled hope/given as a gift/by young teachers/to one who has so much to learn.

We all get self-conscious when undertaking something creativity, mainly because there is vulnerability involved. By sharing a poem, we allow someone a deeper look. As such, we don’t try, saying “Oh I can’t write poetry.” I encourage you to confront that fear, to nurture creativity, and to share the poems of your soul. It can be a type of prayer.

Reflections: 1. Do you have a favorite poem? What makes that poem special to you?

2. Do you write poetry? How does it nurture your soul? If not, what fears does it bring up?