Waiting for poetry

President’s note: this month’s meditative blog comes courtesy of our longtime member and novelist, Patrick Meade

Photo by Andy Vu on Pexels.com

Where does one start on writing a poem? How do we climb inside ourselves and end up creating emotion and imagery out of a group of words?  Is it like dipping a pail into a well and scooping out so many thoughts that they spill over into microscopic worlds then into a line, a stanza? Or is it like a cave with cobwebs and dust, covered thoughts and possibilities where we think, I know what I want to say but I can’t find the words. And so, we peck and persist until those moments of clarity arise.

For most I would think that whatever the process, it is a challenge. It certainly is for me. And maybe through patience, practice, and many bits of paper curled up in a corner (I save mine), a poem scribbles its way onto paper, even into a poetry book somewhere.

 Another approach to writing a poem is to give permission to ourselves that we do not have to be perfect. This could involve skimming the top or even accessing the waters even deeper. At least we are attempting.

Photo by Adil Gökkaya on Pexels.com

It is easy to be overwhelmed as we write but it prevents us from seeing through the debris in the cave. Maybe if we looked at the cave of imagination as a fun place to visit. An amazingly warm and trusting friend. And why shouldn’t it be? It is a veiled locker, a portal to our past. Which memories from it should we tap? Should we pause and sip whiskey and ponder yesterday in a stanza? Should we play in waves of rhyme, or free verse? Four lines or twenty-one? Maybe we can just experiment and see where that leads us. Sometimes, quite a few times in fact, I have started off in one direction and have turned around midway and have taken another more stirring approach to a certain poem.

Not being afraid to say how one feels is important. If I write only of pretty flowers and gentle breezes then I am only that until I am jolted. Tears and unkindness, torn pants, and sorrow happens. It is okay to write about hardships.

When I first attempted poetry, I hid behind clichés and overused words. Meeting other poets and joining poetry groups helped wean me away from the comfortable and safe shields of cliché. With that much armour on, I was having trouble hearing myself let alone reaching listeners or readers trying to understand me.

Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev on Pexels.com

Over time, trials and attempts at writing poetry have given me confidence. They have allowed me to go back into my own well, not someone else’s, and pull out my own thoughts. Mind you, many times ideas have refused to come to the surface. But I guess that is why we have a pail and we control how deep it sinks. We know the path.

I have discovered that through persistence and the invitation of a poem there is so much magnificence – so many trails around us – so many wells, even caves that have gone untapped, unsearched. Waiting.

Oxygen for an Accidental Poet

A first draft poem is applied to the page similar to how an artist lays down an underpainting. Next comes a stroke of colour, an emotive word that does the work of three. Lines are spoken aloud to test their rhythm and musicality. Only the right words in the right order will do. There’s much chiselling before the structure of a poem emerges.

I’d love to tell you that I’ve been writing poetry since I dropped from the womb, that as a child, I spoke in metaphor and screened phrases for iambic pentameter—but I’d be lying. Actually, I just Googled iambic pentameter.

The truth is that I stumbled into writing poetry by mistake. A few years ago, I signed up for a master writing class to be led by Shannon Webb Campbell. The words “reconnect with lands and waters” leapt from the course description. At the time, I was embarking on my current novel set in 1836 Ottawa Valley so this environment-based writing focus excited me. Imagine my surprise when I took my seat, flipped to a fresh page in notepad and realized I was seated inside a scrum of poets with Ms. Campbell, a poet highly acclaimed on a national scale. I must confess a fleeting paralysis. How possibly could I write poetry—the haute couture of self-expression—on demand?

Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

The day’s session lit my interest in poetry. Through the inspiration of readings by instructor and attendees coupled with the warm flow of writing exercises, I produced work centred around themes and scenes in my novel. In fact, elements from one of the poems appears in the opening of chapter one. The experience of writing and listening to other people’s poetry was cathartic. I began to understand poetry as conjurer of emotional or sensory experience, an invitation into a familiar or foreign moment. In the following days, I yearned to write more verse and to seek the companionship of other poets.

Poetry is my gateway to enriched prose. The exercise of writing in verse has taught me that economy of language can live on the page alongside inventive word play. It’s pushed me to be present in my characters’ experiences and to burrow deeper into their inner worlds so I can discover aspects of themselves they’ve secreted away.

In the past, I’d seldom written poetry and then only when ideas struck like lightning. Now I find the pleasure in purposefully setting out to write poetry, in capturing snapshots of emotion and experience. The shift in practice allows me to be more mindful, to savour a moment or spend time considering an injustice that requires broadcasting.

Photo by Deeana Creates on Pexels.com

A poem does not pour from the pen a perfect thing—at least not for me. I’m learning the process of brain gymnastics performed over several drafts of sheets scribbled upon by multiple colours of ink. My thesaurus and stationery supply serve as creative co-conspirators. A first draft poem is applied to the page similar to how an artist lays down an underpainting. Next comes a stroke of colour, an emotive word that does the work of three. Lines are spoken aloud to test their rhythm and musicality. Only the right words in the right order will do. There’s much chiselling before the structure of a poem emerges. I must know when to stop. One line too many and something magical is lost.

I’ve discovered poetry as therapist. Similar to journaling, writing verse is an inward journey. What arrives on the paper is often revelatory to me. I’d no idea I thought that or felt that until the exercise of writing poetry excavated that deep place.

Poetry’s most unexpected gift to me is friendship. So many of us work closeted away with ink stained fingers and sore shoulders. In coffee shops, we note other writers hunkered over laptops. We share a silent nod, much like joggers passing each other on the roadside. But there’s no sharing of ideas or way-to-go pat on the back. For that sustaining creative fuel, real conversation is required—preferably with those who are equally excited by punctuation placement and alliteration. The Brooklin Poetry Society is oxygen to my poetry writing. The members are my friends and mentors without whom I’d only swim in the safe and shallow end of poetry.

      To know the hearts of human beings,
Dissect pain and passion,
Read poetry
 
To escape the knife point of grief,
Raise a mirror in which to gaze
Write poetry
 
To be counted and understood,
Remove isolation from the vernacular
Speak poetry

Gwen Tuinman

June 2019