LESSON SEVEN – MAKING THE POEM MATTER

Salvatore Quasimodo

“Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.”

Mary Oliver

“Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”

Kahlil Gibran

“Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.”

I could go on sharing quotes with you on the meaning of poetry, endlessly.  I could spend days writing about my own feelings as to what poetry is, how it affects us, what it means, what it’s supposed to mean.  There’s no end to the possibilities of defining poetry, particularly because it means different things to us at different times in our lives.

But the one constant of poetry is that it is a truth we speak about ourselves in the form of feelings, using the intricacies and beauty of language and poetic artistry: metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, enjambment and words selected sparingly, as if each one cost us a fortune.

In the end, what truly matters about the poem, is that it mattered to you; the conceiving of it, the crafting of it, the editing of it, and in the end, the willingness and the need to share it.

I’ve discovered, working with poets and budding poets, for years, that writing poetry is not something we “choose” to do, but rather, it chooses us.  I remember, when I was about twelve or thirteen, my mother, exasperated with me because I wanted to stay in my room and write poetry, asking me why I couldn’t be like other young girls and go outside and play, meet with a friend.  I wanted so to please her, but the need to write, to read poetry, to express myself through poetry, was in me, had a grip on me that, even my desire to please my mother, couldn’t dislodge. And, while I might sound a bit indulgent, I also understood, from a very early age, that in order to write, I needed to feel.  Not just casual feelings, but deep, more often than not, painful feelings.  I tell everyone and anyone who asks, “I live my joy, and write my sorrow.”

In order to find you own definition of poetry, your own doorway into poetry, your own definition of poetry and, in order to “make the poem matter” you need to understand what makes you write, what makes you a poet.  I suspect it won’t be that difficult for you, as  our reason for writing often comes at us like a freight train.  My revelation and admission of what makes me write, came together in the following poem:

THE REMEDY

No Sin committed out of need

is evilly conceived; no sin this

silence that pervades the mind; more

an innocence, a quiet time of neither

promises or lies; a small withdrawing

watching silence spread across the page;

yesterday

I uninvented paragraphs of mediocre

prose and turned

inattentive lines to rhyme; today

the storm has passed, in its wake

an empty slatr. Darkly

patient, waits

I could have struggled through

at least a dozen tragedies, I could

have hovered on the verge

of tears, unsnapped the catches

on a score of albums

in the closet gathering dust., I could

have lost myself in autumn, sunk

beneath another season’s agonized

demise or walked an empty beach

there is no end to things

I know to do to make me sad, to bring

the mind around, to cultivate the need;

it is a simple, hateful remedy,

if I would write

I must first bleed.

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