Veronique Darwin

Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

Accidentally Writing Poems

In Inspiration, Language, My Writing, Thoughts on Writing on January 31, 2016 at 8:29 pm

Never did I mean to write a poem. I didn’t like reading them for school and though I once wrote one based on a dream, I never thought I could really evaluate how good it was. It seemed perfect. I sent it off to The New Yorker. What makes a poem good is a question I never asked myself. Then I accidentally started writing them, and now the question hangs there, unanswerable.

Poems seem derived from their structure. A sonnet or a haiku only is one because of how many syllables and lines it has. That makes no sense to me. Isn’t poetry an art? How can it possibly be so different from other things, so boxy, so rigid? I took a whole poetry survey course at UBC where I (unadvisedly) read poems really fast, at my normal reading pace, then showed up to class expecting to participate in discussions. I never could and I never tried reading them differently. I never saw the point.

When I started having to teach poetry to my elementary school students, I asked them to start with free verse, because this was where you could play with words. I executively decided this to be the heart of poetry. We never moved on from that. Any other forms of poetry didn’t make sense enough for me to teach. Why on earth would one write a limerick? Is a child really expressing himself by writing an acrostic poem using adjectives that start with the letters of his name?

I know that stories and novels have structures. They have beginnings, middles and ends, characters and certain other tropes one usually has to adhere to or at least understand, but these seem so much more intuitive to me. I have actually been afraid to write a poem because it seems like an exercise in solving a puzzle, some precise and well-planned thing I would not be good at, like planning an event or buying the right items for a recipe.

The poems I started writing were, as I said, by accident. I was writing the first line of a story, and then I suddenly became looser (drunker?), more willing to follow the flow of my thoughts. I payed closer attention to the pattern in the language and the ideas I was playing with, and from there I built a structure within which I wrote a poem. It was not a structure I knew, but one I made up on the spot, to fit my ideas. A self-serving structure. And then I thought, oh! Oh! Maybe that’s poetry.

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Upon rereading the poem I wrote, though I still can’t judge it for what it is, I can see the ability to make it better. There is a possibility of digging deeper into the idea, because now I can identify it. There is a way of being more faithful to the structure, because it exists. There is the question of specificity, and rhythm, and feeling, and all that can be dealt with now that there is a poem in front of me, a life form waiting to be better moulded and presented to the world, though maybe not The New Yorker.

It occurs to me now that this is the only way I could have ever written poetry, by discovering what poetry is for myself. I find myself wanting to read poetry now (at least the first few lines of one), thinking of a person sitting there and sculpting a thing out of nothing. And I wonder, as I often do, why no one ever told me this. Why did no one ever run up to me and tell me to read Walden, to listen to Destroyer, to watch Noah Baumbach movies? Don’t people actively follow my interests, seeking to give me guidance? Actually, they don’t! So the discovery of Lorrie Moore, of e.e. cummings, of ukulele and trail running become all the greater when done independently. Hey! I like this. Now let me find out why.

Scary Writing

In Inspiration, Language, My Writing, Teaching on October 30, 2013 at 10:15 pm

In grade six I did my first act of plagiarism. I entered a poetry contest with a Halloween poem that my sister had written seven years ago, when she was in elementary school. It was a terrifying poem that took place in what I imagined was the backyard of my house. It scared me so much I thought it was excellent. It was excellent. But it wasn’t mine.

I don’t know why I did it. I loved writing. My sister was the artist; I was the writer. She wrote too; I drew too. But that poem had affected me in such an important way the first time I read it years ago that I wanted other people to feel the same way I did. And I couldn’t write something that good. So I submitted it to my teacher and she submitted it (maybe) to a poetry contest we never heard back from.

I remember that English teacher so well, just like every other English teacher I’ve had. I was so receptive in those classes, so hungry to learn. I remember she once wrote “plausible” on the board and we insisted that she had gotten the word “possible” wrong. I remember she had us write journals and I told her everything. I remember the thing about how she never sent in our Halloween poems.

I had my students write Halloween poems this month. I thought I would let them freestyle it until I found this, a poem by Neil Gaiman called “Instructions.” So the students each wrote their own instructions. Everyone’s poem was incredible. Everyone’s poem was frightening. It’s amazing what foolproof, creative productions can be made from copying a poetic form. I believe now in haiku, in sonnet, in a way I hadn’t before. I understand the merit in mimicking.

But why did I just take the poem as it was? Why didn’t I play around with it and make it my own? What I remember clearest is the feeling of getting away with something, which I soon after realized was not something anyone cared about. It was the opportunity I missed. I never wrote a scary poem.

I just read The Mist by Stephen King after being haunted by the movie version for two years. The book version is less awful because of a different ending. But it’s also more terrifying because it’s written in words and words are what move me. It struck me in both that novella and the poems of my students that what is scary lies in the detail. It is the image that frightens, not the idea.

the-mist-2007

Maybe I was scared to write the poem. I’ve always been afraid of lights off in the bathroom – being in the presence of a mirror when I can’t see myself in it. I’ve always been afraid of ghosts and witches, things behind me in the dark and in front of me when I open my eyes from sleep. I’ve always been afraid of the moment where I set my feet on the ground off the side of my bed, always been afraid of stairwells and the backseat and empty houses. But those are all just ideas until you place them in a poem, until you give them life through the power of a verb, the tint of an adjective, the smile of properly placed punctuation. And that’s when the chills run up the spine. That’s when poems come to life. That’s when you become so manipulated by the magic of words at the age of 12 that you do something you know in your gut is the wrong thing, all for the sake of literature.

Imaginings

In My Writing on June 11, 2012 at 10:00 pm

Imagine you have a dog together

Imagine your car is in the shop

Imagine you came home and made him lunch

Imagine he couldn’t wait to tell you

Imagine you didn’t buy the right kind of eggs

Imagine he’s working on his computer

Imagine you bought a new desk for the study

Imagine he met a friend at the grocery store

Imagine you went to different movies

Imagine you visited the doctor’s often

Imagine the mail came when he was out

Imagine the door to the bedroom was left open

Imagine you didn’t take a pill

Imagine you heard him scream from far away

Imagine the toast popped louder than usual

Imagine you never changed that lightbulb

Imagine the laundry is almost ready

Imagine someone is at the door.

Figurative Boat Ride

In My Writing on June 6, 2012 at 9:30 pm

The gas station fell into the ocean like oil in water.

The boat pedalled along like a bike but in the ocean.

We told her she had to get rid of the spare tire around her waist.

The Millennium Falcon (an allusion).

Haunted house hiding here.

The big rusty key to my heart was buried deep in the moss.

And the lake was contrasted with the mountain.

And the clouds foreshadowed ominous weather sometime soon.

The cat said welcome home.

And the birds were also going home.

Please Notice: I am accepting alternate captions, worse or better.

Swedish Translation

In Literature, My Writing on May 24, 2012 at 12:22 am

“Du Fick Aldrig Veta” by Bruno K. Öijer

you may have never known

that when you left I sat still

by the print in the grass where you lay

I dragged my hand

over that pressed down grass and it was

as if I needed and took care of your absence more

than I needed and took care of you

it was as if nothing might have come back

if you returned

had you trespassed

you would have interrupted grief’s advance

and you may have never known how tender and strong I

spoke to your shadow in the grass

it was as if I already mourned you

as if I tried to accustom myself to

what awaits us all

and the price for a person’s insight

is a feeling of abandonment

which already from the start eliminated and destroyed the belief

of a lasting love

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