Poetry has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My mother and father both read poetry, and I had a big picture book of poetry I read and reread so often that many of those poems linger in my mind though I never consciously memorized them. “A violet by a mossy stone half hidden from the eye. Fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky” is a line that reliably comes to mind every time I go hiking and find wildflowers clinging to unlikely spots along the trail.
My fourth grade teacher, an exceedingly no-nonsense woman named Ms. Jacques, seemed to have two great loves to communicate to my nine year old self: long division and poetry. She taught me dozens of poetic forms from Haiku to the ballad and (what seems more impressive to me now) showed me how to scan a line to fit the meter of the line before it. I loved the structure of writing to a particular format. Hunting for just the right word to fill out the rhythm or rhyme of a line was so much more game-like than ordinary writing which I detested at the time for its irritating reliance on standard spelling and punctuation. With a poem I could invent words to my heart’s debliss and dispense with punctuation entirely.
Ms. Jacques introduced me to my first literary crush, the deliciously uncapitalized e e cummings. Since cummings had neither a first name nor a gender, my nine year old self imagined a pleasant, furry alien who might, should I come across him in my ramblings in the woods, translate for me the poetry of slugs and squirrels and sword ferns.
Eventually college broadened considerably my repertoire of poetry while siphoning off much of the pleasure I found in reading it and all of the joy I took in creating it. I stopped writing poems for years and didn’t miss it until I started reading poetry to my own children and writing my own stories.
Novels are so long, I’ve returned to poetry to give me the satisfaction of writing something I can finish a draft of in a single day. By contrast it takes 3 to 9 months to complete a single draft of even a short novel.
When I get stuck or discouraged, poetry gives me a reliable lift and often a fresh perspective on a character if I opt to write a poem in the voice of one of my characters from a work in progress.
It’s a huge relief to write something that I will not only never sell, but never show anyone. I think having work that lives in my own mind and heart but not in the world is extraordinarily valuable.
How about you? Do you have things you write just for your own pleasure? Let me know in the comments!