Attempting Poetics

In past posts I described my failed attempts to be an accomplished pianist and an admired artist: one led to a keyboard fiasco in church and the other to my inability to produce art as riveting as my father’s skinny chicken.

imagesMore recently, I decided to become a poet. Aglow with visions of quill pens and reading to enraptured audiences, I enrolled in a class for would-be poets and nearly quit when I had trouble completing the first assignment.

As I drove home from class, a stingy snow began to fall and didn’t stop, eventually coating yards and trees with insistence, rather than abundance.

Around 5:30, after an afternoon filled with busy work, instead of starting dinner, I turned up the heat and reread my assignment, a simple, twenty-minute exercise designed for beginners: concentrate on a scene in nature, describe what you see in complete sentences, pull phrases and words you like from those sentences, then arrange the selected fragments according to your idea of poetic format.

images-8I wanted to write poems. I wanted the ability to poetically describe the world I inhabited, to use few words to make the scene outside my window come alive for others, to depict swirls of snow on glistening asphalt and a diminished sky filled with persistent, sparse flakes.

I stood at the window, as frozen as the wind-whipped flakes I watched, and tried to find even one satisfactory sentence for my assignment. Twenty minutes later, I gave up: the assignment unfinished, dinner uncooked, and the poet depressed in a nagging, puny way, not the grand depressive state I imagined a real poet would feel.

I decided to start the spaghetti.

No matter how motivated, I find it hard to develop a new skill: work is required, failure is frequent, and — once past elementary school — praise is mostly absent. Too often, I react to my lack of skill and fear of failure by procrastinating or quitting. If I hadn’t had loving cheerleaders standing by offering encouragement, appreciation, and outstretched arms when I first tried to walk, I’d probably hold Ripley’s record as the world’s oldest living crawler.

Now, five years after my first poetry class, I continue to distract myself when I need to have something ready for my poetry group. Prose flows from me; poetry doesn’t. So I resist the effort involved.

Recently, I wrote an apology to the group to explain why, once again, I arrived without anything to share, and did my best to make it look like a poem:

I Hope You Understand

I apologize. I’m not prepared.

I had things to do—
finish a disappointing novel
water anything that drooped
call people
drink coffee and stare
stalk Facebook friends

So I haven’t written a poem.

Yet, during the afternoon
I reserved for writing a
poem about crows
strutting like Sumo wrestlers
along my sidewalk,
I alphabetized the spice cabinet
ate rhubarb pie with ice cream
and napped.

After all, one has priorities.





34 thoughts on “Attempting Poetics

  1. Love the image of Crows and Sumo wrestlers. You tend to put my thoughts to paper. This is exactly how I feel about my photography. I think I’ll go watch those crows…..


    • What a great definition of poetry, Jan: “putting things in lines and being enigmatic.” I’m going to share it with my group today where I’ll show up in about 3 hours, once again, with no poem. Thanks for giving me some small thing to contribute.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. There are hidden messages in anyone’s prose, especially yours Janet.Gin Getz, as you know I am a huge fan of her work, gave me the best of advice. First off, can you believe it, I some how had the nerve to send her some of my first poems! I am so brave when I am behind my computer 🙂
    Anyway, she said that my poems, were heart-felt and interesting but they weren’t finished. A poem is not about you anymore, it is about the words. Well, that statement really made me sit up straight. She showed me a simple technique which transforms my words, my prose, into what I consider poems. It is like waving a magic wand…(I will now attempt some magic on your own words, hope you don’t mind)


    I apologize, I’m not
    Prepared, things, finish
    A disappointing novel
    Water anything drooped
    Call people, drink
    Coffee and stare
    Stalk Facebook

    I haven’t written
    A poem
    Yet this afternoon
    I reserved for writing
    A poem perhaps
    Crows strutting
    Like Sumo
    wrestlers along my sidewalk
    Or more likely
    The spice cabinet alphabetized
    Eating rhubarb pie
    With ice cream and a nap
    After all
    One has priorities.

    I have found such a beautiful outlet in writing poetry, I have never written poetry in any style until I started my blog about 7 or so months ago. It has grown from there and I would love to see your prose wander through a poem…just my humble opinion. Write as you write, then let go of “you” in the words and throw them up in the air, add commas or put on different lines than you initially intended them to live, it is amazing and so magical to see what underlying messages are there for you to uncover. Enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Carrie, I appreciate the thought you put into this post and the feedback on my poem. I do like the changes you made, and gin’s words and your explanation of them make sense to me — where much of what I’ve been told or read about writing poetry doesn’t. I’ll give it some thought and the next poem I write from my group I’ll send along to you (if I feel I’ve made progress.)


  3. For me poetry is just short-hand prose. Poets seem to leave out a lot of words, supposedly so that intellectuals can fill in the blanks and understand the hidden meaning. Most poetry today doesn’t even rhyme. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t want to have to think about what the writer meant – I want the writer to say what he/she means, and keep it simple.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your thoughts echo some I’ve entertained as well. I got my chuckle of the day from “so that intellectuals can fill in the flanks and understand the hidden meaning.” I do prefer both writing and reading prose, but I think trying to write poetry where every word should have impact might improve my prose.


  4. The artist and writer, Emily Carr, when asked how she drew said, “I think a thing, I draw a line around it” She was a grumpy old thing, but it is how I do it- hear a word, draw a line around it in my mind. I do not believe in writers bock. There is that light Janet, even on the snowiest day, we too often hide from it with that bushell- you are a fine poet and true wit- I admire wit.

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a great quote from Emily Carr, Sheila. Makes all kinds of sense. When I read your comment about writer’s block, I recognized something I’ve long thought. I don’t believe in it either. I can always write, but sometimes I either don’t feel like doing so (as in this post about my first poetry lesson) or am less than pleased with the result. And in the end, to me and, to you as well, I think, it’s all about wit.


  5. I wrote a few poems back in college and, reading back over them today, I discovered that I was actually more creative back then. Wonder what happened? Life got in the way I guess.

    But, your poetic apology—(about life getting in the way)—is far better than anything I could come up with to explain my lack of poetic prowess!

    Enjoy the class!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rita, maybe it’s that you concentrate and cared more about your poems then, and now, as you said, there are so many other things you enjoy. I like the clear, straight-forward, yet descriptive, way you present interesting information in your travel blog.


  6. Let me count the ways….that this post made me laugh out loud! The idea of being “depressed in a nagging puny way” was my first burst of laughter, followed by “being the world’s oldest living crawler” knee slapping. I can laugh because of my admiration for your writing.
    To write “a stinging snow began to fall and didn’t stop” is poetry to me. Also “swirls of snow on glistening asphalt”…is beautiful.
    Me thinks the poetry class knows the poet that lies within, who has her priorities.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment, pointing out the humor in the post, made me laugh at my own lines, Mary. I chuckled when I wrote them, and I’m glad you enjoyed them as well. Thanks for your other kind words. I like the descriptions I write in prose, but never feel they quite measure up in poetry. Must be a mental block. I’m looking forward to hearing about your trip to Washington DC.


  7. Janet, A terrific post…and the best part is how well you have stimulated an engaging discussion!. I also enrolled in a poetry class after retiring from an academic career. I hadn’t written poems since junior high school.. BUT… am enjoying exploring new challenges in self-expression and finding it is bringing new awareness too.. I strongly agree with one of your readers (waking of the bear) that I prefer poems that make some sense to me… especially ones more akin to story telling…..Some “poetry” I have read reminds me of the child’s story of the Emperors New Clothes… and I think on occasion maybe there is really not much there in this strange set of words but the writer’s pompous pretense..(am I being too harsh here?).” Sue

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not too harsh at all, Sue. If I can’t get any sense at all out of the first few lines of a poem, I quit reading. I’m too old to try to guess at a meaning. I want to hear a flow of wonderful-sounding words saying something meaningful or entertaining. Most of my poetry group members write poems I enjoy, which is why I hang in there. I also identify with your enjoyment of new challenges and finding of new awarenesses in your poetry class.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Delightful post. Your poem has such charm and humor and certainly made me smile and read it more than once. I love your ‘priorities.’ That said, please don’t change a single word in your poem. It is perfect as is.


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