Front Page, Musings

Weekly Musing: The Value of Poetry

I’ll admit poetry is not a form of writing I read much of or write. Up until recently, the only time I read or write poetry was for school. For me I felt poetry was the arena of the tortured soul. Someone tucked away in the corner of a room wearing a black beret, lamenting the damnable state of the world as he chain smokes himself into the grave. The poems I read in school I felt, were really pretentious and just so overwrought. Perhaps because the subject matters chosen for our textbooks dealt with life, death, and politics. Don’t get me wrong, I did appreciate some of the poems for conveying difficult emotions in a powerful way.

If poetry in school taught me anything it was apparently if you are a happy person, poetry ain’t for you. Only the emotions of angst, sadness, lost, and anger need apply. Why didn’t we ever read happy poems? Funny poems? Or even slightly amusing ones? Was it because we were teenagers and the nation’s school boards felt only the dark stuff would speak to us? Or is because it is too easy to dismiss positive emotions as fluff that lack depth?

So these were the prejudices I have held since my school days. This started to change when I began writing. I realized for myself, poetry is a great way to express short bursts of emotions that are troubling me. When I do write poetry, it is usually when I’m feeling angry, sad, or alone. Again, I associate poetry with only ‘serious’ emotions. When I write poetry, it releases me from those emotions I am bottling up. They can come out in a safe matter. Once the words are our, I feel much better and can concentrate on the rest of my day.

When I took a creative writing class last year, the first unit we did was poetry. I was a bit nervous since it’s not my favorite discipline but I was also thankful we were starting with it. What was a nice change from high school and college was the poems the teacher assigned were less angst filled and even fun. My teacher encouraged us to use concrete, vivid images. For example, instead of saying ‘A flower vase sitting on the windowsill’ a much more vivid image for a reader would be ‘A cracked, faded blue vase filled with pink and orange flowers sat upon the windowsill drinking in the morning sun’.

That’s when I started to realize how valuable poetry is for a fiction writer. Poetry forces the writer to concentrate on making the most out of a small amount of words. To really drill into the core of the piece for the emotions and to come up with appropriate images to convey that emotion. Elements every fiction writer should be striving for over the length of their story. What an epiphany!

The poetry unit in my creative class also encouraged me to write poems. I don’t ever look back on the poems I’ve written to revise them, though. That’s not why I write them. I don’t consider myself a poet just a fiction writer who sometimes likes to write poetry. Another reason is because many of my poems touch upon the theme of isolation; at work, with friends, or with family, not stuff I want to share with anyone else. But I have tried to move beyond that melancholy to write poems about what I see walking down by the river on a spring day, a poem appreciating my spouse, the theme of freedom, and other non-angst emotions.

I’ve also made more of an effort to read poetry. The nice thing about libraries and downloading free books from Amazon is it allows me a chance to explore a new genre. Some I have enjoyed quite a bit, one in particular Ghetto Hot Sauce, is a collection of very harsh, sometimes brutal, poems about life in prison and growing up in the inner city yet the themes of hope, forgiveness, and reconciliation pop up in many of the pieces.

Poetry is just another form of storytelling and it took becoming an adult and taking a creative writing class to realize that. Just another avenue for me to take on the verbiage highway.


Weekly Musing: Today Was a Good Day

I prefer good writing days to bad ones. So what do I define as a good writing day? A good writing day is one where the ideas, the characters, the dialogue, all seem to come together without much thought. There’s a sense of freedom and it is incredibly energizing. You’re working but it doesn’t feel like work. Nothing is forced onto the page.

A bad writing day for me consists of forcing thoughts onto the page just for exercise. Not that that is a bad thing. Writing something, anything, each day is great practice and if what I wrote is crap it can be fixed later. No, a bad writing day is the feeling your brain has slowed down and you are slogging through extra chunky peanut butter. Everything just feels so wrong.

The past couple of months have seen more mediocre or bad writing days than good. I struggled with the ideas were there but the words failed to materialize appropriately on the pages. Stories I’d written felt ‘off’. The stories were weak. The characters weren’t compelling. Even after revisions, it just wasn’t right. Experiments instead of blowing up like the wrong chemicals mixed in a chemistry lab, instead fell flat on the floor.

It was really discouraging. Too many bad writing days piled up causing me to second guess each sentence. I valued the stories written less and less.

Yet I knew I had to plug along.

When I have a good writing day I find there’s no initial fretting if what I just wrote is good or bad. I don’t care because the joy of writing has taken over. Creativity has spilt out; unleashed, raw, and authentic.

Over the last few weeks things started to turn around. Finding anthologies and contests which looked interesting has helped me have more pleasant writing days. Picking anthologies with themes that would challenge my mind and abilities has been fun. For example, composing a story entirely through dialogue with no speech tags (i.e. ‘he said’, ‘she said’) was a fun and exciting exercise. While winning or at least placing in this particular contest would be awesome, the biggest kick was how much fun I had. Not only did I push myself to write a story entirely in dialogue, I also attempted humor, something I think believe one either has an ear for it or not. I was fortunate to be able to submit it to my writers group before entering it and the response was positive. A nice little extra pep in my step I must admit.

A good or great writing day leaves me in a much better mood. That’s not to say when I’m struggling that I let it turn me into a complete sourpuss, but it does affect me. I find myself thinking more about what I feel was bad product and how to fix it. If I’m having a good writing day I don’t automatically think what I’ve written doesn’t need to be fixed, it certainly does require revising, but I feel the initial quality is better. I believe it goes back to that rush of unrestricted creative energy. It carries over into other aspects of my life.

So, yeah, today was a good day.