How to Build a Poem

There is nothing quite like the feeling of having written a poem. To have put your thoughts and feelings out on paper, no matter how well-written or understandable to others, is joy without equal. Spilling our frustrations, hopes, joys, or simply a vision, into words somehow unleashes a part of the soul inaccessible in quite the same way in any other medium.

A good way to begin the writing of your own poetry is by reading the poems of others. A good poet can show us aspects of the world not evident. When the writer is able to tap into a deep well of wisdom within themselves, it often resonates with us as well, and we recognize it as universally true.

I find inspiration in other poets when I am stirred to put my own response down on paper. I recognize the part of me that their poem touched. After reading a good poem give me pen and paper!


A great example is the late Mary Oliver’s poem "Wild Geese" ~


*******
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
********

My first encounter with this poem was like a window opening onto a landscape I never knew existed: my task is not to beat myself. My life is so full of doing what I think I should be doing, in a kind of mechanical way, that the concept that all I have to do is be happy was completely foreign to me. And the idea that the world itself, nature, my surroundings, could be an agency of love, was also foreign, though I right away recognized it as true, correct ~ right. It is a way of knowing that you could never convince someone else of, especially a skeptic, but you nevertheless recognize it as truth. Perhaps it is only true for me, but then, why does it have to be otherwise? If it works for me, that is enough. Same for you.

Try starting this yourself. Find a favorite poem and then pen your response to it, as you may have done in call-and-answer catechisms in church, or in school classrooms answering the teacher’s questions. Make the poem a prompt. How does it affect you? What does it stir in you? Where does it take you that you have never been?

Then step into that room.

 


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