Over the last 6 months, I’ve written roughly four hundred poems, and I feel like I’ve learned something (God, I hope I learned something; otherwise, I really have wasted a lot of time writing poetry.) I’ve seen lots of these tips on writing, and some of them are pure bullshit (i.e. “the timer method” or “write a villanelle today, and a sonnet tomorrow”)
Let me tell you something, and please, if you disagree, let me know. The villanelle is DEAD. The sonnet is DEAD. Do you know who your audience is if you write one of these poems? Someone who is trying to get you to read their villanelle and/ or sonnet and/ or haiku. Haiku is great as catharsis. Don’t get me wrong. Haikus can be lots of fun. But they’re just small words.
No one wants to read your nature poem, unless your nature poem says something that’s not been said about nature. Don’t tell me about how nature’s beauty fades. Robert Frost kind of owns that with “Nothing Gold Can Stay.”
I don’t want to hear how the clouds look like pillows in the sky. Or marshmallows. Even cigarette smoke has been said. Tell me the clouds look like albino mustard gas. Weird, huh? At least it’s interesting.
Thou shall not speaketh like this. Poetry has to, has to, has to be honest, so unless you’re Shakespeare who somehow caught a hold of a time machine, do not talk like Shakespeare. Talk like Jake, talk like Lucy. Poetry is not pretty words. Poetry is words that you think need to be said. That’s about as terse as I can get. If no one cares what you have to say, then it’s probably not poetry.
Which brings me to rhyming. Rhyming can be really great. Just know this: your job as a poet is to trick people into reading poetry. This is a general idea of what people think of when they think of poetry:
What sun rises on the east
Tis the eyes of lovers in love
What wretched soul bequeaths the beast
That crushes the soul of fragile little dove
It’s cryptic. It’s cliche. It’s all naturey. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “bequeath” before. It’s overdramatic, and to get back to my main point for now, it rhymes.
If you’re gonna rhyme, you’re taking on a bigger challenge. Plus-sides of rhyming: it can be catchy, it’s is more musical, you can play with putting ideas into the words you rhyme (i.e. mate and hate (contrast or juxtaposition)) What you’re not doing is thinking about who is going to read this. This is why people say poetry is dead. Poetry needs to become a part of its times. We get more real as a society, more honest. That’s all we’ve ever done. We break down barriers, and I think when you write like a 16th century poet you lie to your reader. I admire rhyme. I wrote rhyme a long time, but if you want to be heard, talk (or yell) more like you do, and less like Francis McFancypants, Esq.
You have a rhythm. Everything you say has a rhythm. And believe it or not, it is a challenge to write the way you talk. To find the poetry in the words that press down on that god damn keyboard. Think about the way you type even. You type faster and slower. That’s one of the reasons I’m an advocate for typing poems. It’s rhythmic. It’s like playing the alphabet piano. It helps. You find. Your internal rhythm. Your pace – your flow – the way you truly. Speak.
It’s a bummer coming on here. Though there are some great poets on wordpress, tumblr, facebook, you have to filter through massive hills of shit to find them.
Read modern day poets. Go to a local poetry slam. Even better, don’t find your poetry in poetry; find it in music, on billboards, in other people’s words. I can’t tell you how much poetry I hear people say everyday of my life. My sister the other day said “We are not infants in business suits, though…” in casual conversation, and I knew there was a poem there. That she meant more than just an obscure reference to an episode of Rugrats we watched when were little kids. It was amazing. It made my day.
More than anything – write. Write shitty poetry. Shitty poetry is warm up rounds for the good poems. Trust me. I can see the patterns in my books. Sometimes it takes a few tries to get at what you’re getting at.
Also, before I misguide someone there, think less. If you try to be deep, you are going to sound like you’re trying to be deep. I had this idea I written in my phone “Life is the murderer. Death is just waiting for you on the other side.” I really like that thought, BUT it’s too “profound”. It needed to be humanized, rationalized, and a little bit bastardized. I ended up writing a poem on it, two months later, might I add, where it came out:
life. shit, man. life is your friend sometimes. death
is always waiting by the phone for you to call and
hear me, you. when life stabs you in the back. when
she sleeps with your best friend and turns off your
alarm so you’re late for work. when life cancels your
insurance before driving your car into the first brick
wall she can find. when she strikes you with sodium
penethol (truth serum) just before your lifetime achievement
speech and calls your mom and tells her you murdered someone
and the cops catch on and they break into your house
in the middle of the night and arrest you for the crime
that life committed, hear you, me, brother. death will be
the friend who takes a taxi to the penitentiary to come
and bail your sorry ass out.
Be down to earth. Every poet is trying to become a god, when the whole point of poetry is to utilize it to become a human being. Consider your audience, and I don’t just mean that in a high school English teacher way. I mean that in a “learn to empathize and sympathize and apathize with everyone, so you know how to speak to them” kind of way.
Write everyday. Bring a notebook with you. Send text messages of poem ideas to yourself. Write down advertisements you see. The other day, I was driving to work and on the radio, there came a flash flood warning, at one point the man on the radio said “Do Not Drown.” Whoa. There’s a poem there. Everyone can hear that flash flood warning in their head. They can hear the baseball announcer’s voice; they can hear the preacher at the funeral; they can hear the preacher at the gospel church; they can hear the 1950′s ad for Brillo pads; take advantage of your multiple personality disorder.
I have a lot more to say, but I’m gonna stop, thus marking this part one. Please leave me any questions or comments, and I will include good questions in my next post on the subject. In the mean time, I dare you to write who you are, and how you are. Write the whiskey that’s burning through your liver, and write the spit that’s stuck underneath your tongue.
P.S. I think this poem speaks to this subject a bit, too.