That’s poetry to me

Earlier this week I read some poetry and I didn’t particularly care for it.   The poet’s work is respected, but I couldn’t appreciate it.  I had to admit, I wondered if I lacked the academic background to “get it.”  Possibly.  I’m sure there are layers of sophistication which completely escaped me.  But the exercise caused me to ask myself what I do like in poetry.

I like poems which have a voice.

Of course, I think we gravitate to voices that resonate with us.  They feel like they could even BE us.  The words and phrasing flow so naturally, so freely.  And if not our own voice, then that of a friend, either one who exists or one we wish existed.  There is comfort in the voice, and perhaps familiarity.

Or, this happens too, the voice isn’t familiar, but it’s authentic.  These poems jag us about sometimes, they push into unfamiliar waters.  The strange voice opens us to new thoughts, maybe confrontations, certainly things we would not have intentionally sought, but having encountered them we are now affected by them.

I read a poem a bit like a child entering a candy store.

And my poetic sweet tooth craves two things in particular: imagery and word play.  I feel like there’s no chocolate in the shop if the poem doesn’t contain some nice imagery.  And you call yourself a candy store?  Huh! I want sensory satisfaction, captivating images, sounds, odors, textures to transport me into the poem’s reality.   And I want them expressed whenever possible in creative, clever, and interesting ways.

I want the words selected and arranged with care.

I believe in the magic of poetry.   A poet takes what is in his heart, his soul, or his head and shares it in a way that gets our attention.  It not only speaks to us but it speaks to us with its art.  And its art is the crafting of the poet, who has written, and maybe rewritten thirty times, her poem, listening to it’s rhythm, switching the words around, adding and omitting, removing lines and adding images until the poet sees that there exists in their work a spark that they didn’t create, but was created none the less. It is then, as if by magic, the poem has now become something larger than the efforts of the poet.  When we find this in poetry we remember it.

Easy does it.

I gravitate to poetry that is short and honest.  I like a certain purity in thought, I find elegance in simplicity.  I don’t doubt that longer more complex poems have their payout to those who are up to the challenge.  But very seldom will I invest the necessary effort in them.

So there you have my short list of what I look for in a poem.  An authentic voice that captures my attention with it’s particular mix of images, words, and construction and arrives at something special is. indeed, poetry to me.

An Ohioan’s Valentine to the month of February

Dear February,

A smile in midwinter goes a long way, and a February smile feels like Florida sunshine.  They say that cold hands mean warm hearts.  Well, in the North we ALL have cold hands about now.  And warm hearts too I think.  February, It’s no wonder that love is at your center.

Thank you for being what you are.  To me you are a haven, a quiet place, a place of focus.  i thank you that you are not frantic.  i love your calm and solitude.  i love your steadiness.  On this third day of the month you greet me in your classic white attire, a blanket of snow, sparkling and bright in the frigid morning air.

I know that not all your days will be calm, I know there will be rough weather. But I draw comfort from your brevity. You are unique and concise with your attractive 28 day pattern (3/4 of the time).  31 days would not become you. You assure us that the year is moving forward, and in the middle of winter we desperately need that assurance.

February, you hold a special place in the year.  Thanks for showing up!  But maybe in the future we could hang out somewhere not this cold.  Just a thought.

Happy Valentine’s Day,

An admirer

Are we having fun yet?

I like to listen to music.  Do I have any interest in playing music or composing it? No.  I like to watch movies and good television.  Do I want to be an actor or director?  No.  I love going to great restaurants.  Do I want to spend hours improving my skills in the kitchen.  Not really.  At least not in a serious way.  So why should I, a person who enjoys reading, feel like I need to be a writer?  Most people read, and many read a good more than I do, don’t feel the need to become writers. But I guess I do.  I have for a pretty long time.  Maybe since junior high, definitely before high school was over, I was writing to amuse myself.

This morning I had a difficult time settling into writing.  I had two questions for myself, first, “should I quit writing?”  followed by its companion question, “why do I want to write anyway?”

Beginning with the second question I write because, as I discovered way back when I was filling notebooks with poems borne out of the voice of Rod McKuen and Joan Baez, it’s fun.  The fun started with an assignment in my 8th grade English class where another student and I came up with a sketch in the flavor of the Smothers Brothers on the war in Viet Nam.  The creative spark was fanned by a sound high school literature curriculum that made me fall in love with the best writers of the English speaking world. I acquired a basic belief that I might possess a literary voice myself, or at least develop one with effort and patience.

Today I know why I write.  I write for personal satisfaction.  Period.  So if I feel satisfaction as a result of my writing why would ask myself if I should quit?  It’s the questions of legitimatizing the process.  It’s the goal setting.  It’s the questions that shape how a writer spends structures their time and focuses their efforts.

These are tough questions for writers and there are no ‘right’ answers.  As writers we do need to consider the direction we want our writing to go and how we plan to get there, but we must not mistake how we feel about the mechanics of the journey for the actual activity of writing.  If writing provides you with satisfaction and enjoyment, that is enough.  I find it helps me think through issues and explore meaning.  Writing strengthens my understanding of life.  As long as that’s in play and as long as arranging words feels like play, writing is my field for play.