You Have, At Least Once in Your Life, Written a Poem

Everyone has. In honor of National Poetry Month, I want to go out on a limb and say that this is really, really okay. Even more, it’s great –no matter how adolescent, how much they make you cringe, how good they look in your drawer, the poems you write over the course of living your life really matter. The act of writing poetry is an important one, and one more people should undertake. (At some other point this month, I’ll talk about the act of reading poetry. But that’s for later.)

People write poetry because they instinctively know what Emily Dickinson actually knew how to put into words — that poetry is the distillation of experience, and sometimes it is the only form that will do for what you want to say. Or maybe you just liked the way those violets smelled. No matter. We all have something we need to distill, even if it’s that not-so-great-smelling ex-boyfriend, like the one who inspired this poem, the first few lines of which I give you, perfectly free, in honor of National Poetry Month:

I am not a service station,
he said,
when I asked,
What about me?

Now I know you’re thinking, NO! She really dated someone who said that? Why yes, I did. And worse. What could I do but write about it? By the end of the poem, I realized that all the bad stuff from that long ago time could not be laid at his feet alone. Mine were involved too. If you write honestly, whether you choose a sonnet or a limerick, even if you write not so beautifully, you find yourself staring down some hard truths. And that’s all to the good.

Here’s another one:

The Cigar

Sometimes it’s what men smoke
when they want to be men.

Sometimes it’s the haze in the air
that obscures a man’s face.

Sometimes it’s what he’d like to do
with the woman across the room.

Except he can’t;
he can only blow smoke.

Okay. I know it’s not Lycidas. Still, it amused me to write it and if I had time, I’d tinker with it, remove some words, figure out the line breaks and it would be more amusing still.

This was fun. All over the web, people are writing poetry (some secretly). And they are encouraging others to talk about poetry. And I think this is just great. Bring on the poims, I say! Go look here and here for some more.

Because I firmly believe it is just fine and appropriate to revel in words — to begin by putting them down in the more abbreviated form with line breaks we think of as a “poem,” and then maybe moving on to rhyming stuff if you feel like it, or counting syllables and giving the world (or at least your journal) a sonnet — or figuring out how to spell out something like Happy Birthday Ed, with each letter of those three words standing for something you like about that person, such as “helluva guy.” This is not a post about quality or value or judgment. I think if people write for fun, eventually, they will want to figure out how to make their fun writing the best writing they can. But if they never get around to writing for fun, well, they certainly aren’t ever going to get to the good writing. And they’re not going to read it either, I’m pretty sure, not for fun anyway.


13 thoughts on “You Have, At Least Once in Your Life, Written a Poem

  1. I write poetry all the time. It is a great outlet for expression whether it be humor, sadness, happiness or just whatever. I enjoy reading it as well…so here’s to poetry month from one poet to another!

  2. Lily, I like your poems. The blowing smoke reference is insightful and clever.

    Thank you for your link to Little Debbie. I am honored. That being said, what I found most fortuitous was my discovery that Slice is back!

    Best to you from Q

  3. So well said, Lily! There are so many worse places to start from than “fun” And I’m not surprised you dated someone who said such a thing…haven’t we all??

    Thanks for linking to my little piece on Petrarch and Poetry Month. Like qazse above, I’m honored. Now I just have to stick to my project!!

  4. wonderful post, lily. i think we should all take it to heart; we forget writing should be fun at least some of the time.

    for as much as i enjoyed your poems, you’re a greater poet than you even realize. to wit, you wrote something that i could easily envision in iambic pentameter:

    we all have something
    we need to distill
    even if it’s that not-so-great-smelling ex-boyfriend
    like the one
    who inspired this poem

    all you need to do is add a few vivid images of what he actually smelled like, and you got yourself a poem!

  5. Wonderful, Lily! The secrecy is helpful, I think, especially as, as you said, writing so much, and writing honestly, does require a fierce staring contest with several hard truths.

  6. Maybe we have all written it, but, well, some of us quite obviously have written it better than others. And don’t feel bad; I think we all dated someone like that, didn’t we? (They’re called frogs in fairy tales, which is an insult to the lovely frog.)

  7. So much of our life can be spent in verse. For instance, this limerickal exchange at the Golden Arches;

    Two fries and a hash brown to go, some hotcakes and syrup I’ll stow with three nice big Macs in takeaway sacks. Now how much for this do I owe?

    Is that with a coffee today? On a tray or is this takeaway? That’s ten ninety five, take care how you drive, enjoy your meal, have a nice day.

  8. I like the cigar poem.
    Perhaps I will make an attempt to read something other than John Donne for National Poetry Month.

  9. My own poetry writing was thankfully limited to a few teenage years of experimentation during which I could not free myself from the need to have a rhyme scheme. I’m not easily embarrassed, but those old poems cropping up again might just do it! But I love reading poetry and it’s great to know such a thing as National Poetry Month exists. Here’s to some fun exploration!

  10. Oh litlove, you have nothing to be ashamed of. Very few teenagers would submit their unruly passions to a rhyme scheme. They’d just pour it out and every once in a while move on to pour it out onto another line.

    I think Donne could keep a woman satisfied for a lifetime, Becky. That’s not a relationship that would ever get boring. I will tell you that in my opinion a Nocturnal on St. Lucy’s Day (eve?) — you know, “I am the day’s midnight…” — is one of the finest poems ever, ever written.

    Dear Archie, I read once that some people are unable to think and speak in anything other than limericks. Of the many afflictions one can have, that seems okay to me. And thank you for sharing your McDonalds gems.

    Emily, As it turns out, that frog did turn into a prince. He married a princess of a woman and he is defending people who are on death row and raising two nice children. How about that!

    You’re right, Emma. And also, when you’re doing things you’re not quite ready to share, but you want to keep track of, the “secret” blog is just perfect.

    Bookfraud, Oh, how wonderful! Would you please make everything else I write sound so good?

    Dear Deborah, Having never read Petrach, and liking things like sonnets, I was thrilled to see you giving such a good introduction to him. I’m looking forward to more.

    Hey Q, Thank you! And yes, Slice, the wonderful haiku waitress, who’s anonymous, but lives in Canada, and so funny to boot — is indeed BACK.

    Marie, I’m working on it.

    lways, Welcome! Writing delivers such a variety of things to people who do it — it’s a way to organize your thoughts, make sense of things, crack yourself up, do something wild and unexpected… and more.

  11. Pingback: A (Somewhat) Sonnet for Poetry Month « Exuberant Reader

  12. I’ve been thinking I might be brave enough to put a poem or two I wrote on my blog…’s really hard, though. It’s like a piece of my soul out there. I know how Emily Dickinson felt and why she bound hers with ribbon. The closer I get to feeling I might have a publishable book of poems – and I have been writing them since I was 13, and i will until I die, because I have to write them, there are some things that can only be said in or through a poem – the more I look at people reading them in public and think they deserve a medal for just going out there and sharing them. In my secret heart I’m brave enough! In reality I’m like Emily D… one has seen them. I’ll let you know if I put on one, but for now – I like your bits and pieces!
    Oh, and the editor of our newspaper here – The Ottawa Citizen – did an editorial on why poetry matters, so that was good to see, in honour of this month.

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