How to Make a Poem Out of (Almost) Anything


It’s National Poetry Month and to honor the occasion I want to share a little poetry wisdom on my blog.

I write a lot of poems. I scribbled the first words when I was seven or eight but I have a clear memory of the day I wrote my first ‘real’ poem. I was thirteen and it was for a talent competition. The poem was called My Blossoms and you can read it here.

It was in one of those aah moments that my fingers just typed up this first poem and I thought to myself at once, ‘How perfect’. And I never stopped after that. So I’ll share some poetry secrets with you because poetry is something people either love or hate. The thing about poetry is, it doesn’t always have to be rhyming words. Your poems don’t always have to be that perfect haiku or villanelle. You can just write freestyle. Poetry should be more about penning down what’s inside your heart in a way that uplifts you and lilts you than about being a perfect combination of words and letters. Though of course, if you are a stickler for words , you’re most welcome to make your poetry systematic and organized. Me, not so much.

So here’s my poetry secret 1:

Poetry is just soundless music

I have forever found music to be a source of inspiration for poetry and vice versa. If you’re listening to a song and you let the music wash all over you, you feel uplifted and rejuvenated. Music heals, sometimes mysteriously. It’s about how you can relate to a particular song maybe because you are going through or have been through something similar or else, just because the music and the words take you to the place you need to be in. Listen to the beats, pay attention to the words and let your heart and soul fly off to a land where you feel contended enough to write. Or saddened enough to write. Whatever floats your boat.

Here are a couple of songs, for example, that leave me in that trance-like subspace that I so desperately need for the best writing to some out of me:

 

Another useful trick of the trade for those times when you simply must write a poem and you can’t. Make a list of adjectives and nouns that you really like. Or else, just randomly pick up a magazine and open it at different pages, picking up the first words your eyes fall on (and skip the prepositions and conjunctions please). The trick is to collect a bunch of words and arrange them until a sensible pattern emerges. This was one of the first exercises I picked up on and it actually works.

Here’s one I found on a blog which is actually about this exercise. The blog is called A Bowl of Random Words.

And here is my poem:

The elm tree in the glade is my retreat
Fly away, you
You’re not welcome here
You will be called when I am gone
Dig the burrow then 
And you will find my traces

And here is another one:

And another poem:

The truth lay naked before my eyes
And I snapped like a twig in the heat of July
His fall from grace was terrible
A lifetime of love reduced to a trickle
I left the way I came
Turning invisible again

This exercise can be hard at first but it gets easier and you’ll be happy with what you’re writing soon enough. That is, after all, the ultimate aim.

Another useful tool for poetry is a classic visual aid: images of whatever it is you want to write about.

Use images to open up your mind

If you want to write about freedom, google ‘Freedom’ and surf through the images until you find one that sets the machinations of your brain running.

This, for example, is an image about freedom that I really like:

http://vi.sualize.us/_city_girl_pography_picture_4Nh1.html

And a poem that this image brings to my head:

I flew
Over the city walls
High above oblong skyscrapers and wilted dreams
Far from countless memories pulsing through the crowd
Unaware of danger, flirting with adventure
The pink skyline could not tear me down
I was on the cusp of freedom

Images can do wonders for poetry and you can stare at something until it stirs your insides; you get goosebumps and before long, poetry will start to flow.

And another one:

Read lots of good poetry

Wordsworth and Keats are not always the easiest but if you sift through the treasure trove of poetry that the world has to offer, I am betting you will find something you will love. You do not need to understand all of it. Even if some of it makes sense to you, consider yourself blessed because the aim of poetry is to move something within you and if it succeeds at that even slightly, the poet has done a good enough job. This poem I read recently touched me deeply. I am sharing it here verbatim:

Dulce Et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

(courtesy: World War 1 on the BBC from As I Please).

I googled the phase Dulce et decorum est, Pro patria mori and it means ‘It is sweet and right to die for your country’, which sent a shiver running down my back and left me feeling haunted.

All I’m really trying to say is that no matter who you are, you’ll find at least one poem out there in the cosmos that will make you love the fact that it was ever written and if you keep digging you’ll find more and more until perhaps at some point, you’ll be capable of bringing out some of your own hidden emotions through one.

The next secret works in much the same way as the universe does when it makes you feel poignant and emotional. It is simply that

To go out in nature or travel through a strange land or see places you have never seen- places of historical significance or cultural heritage which you cannot quite wrap your head around, is in itself an experience so joyful and revealing that your soul will rejoice and want to then express itself in some way. That is when you pick up your pen and pour out all the sites you saw and all the things you felt, touched, heard, smelled into a poem.

This secret will work, I am sure of it. Because when you are out somewhere, perhaps in nature or taking a walk through a ruin which holds a story and echoes with the screams of people who died there or with the laughter of those who lived there, you will be able to embrace feelings you didn’t think you had. Poetry can flow out of anything- and I mean even the ugliest of things. It’s just about what you want to write, what you want to feel and what you want to give out.

And so here is my very last poem secret of the day. I’ll tell you this; I have never really thought of myself as a ‘poet’ with just that label. And I cannot. But the important thing, I think, is not to think of being excellent but to think of being truthful to yourself and your life. That’s when poems come.

Write as much as you can. Practice makes perfect, of course.

Not perfect; not really. Nothing can be perfect. But with time you’ll see how your thoughts don’t coagulate anymore. Even if you want to write a hundred and one poems on quite the similar theme, write them! Nobody has to see them all. Share only your best work but keep the rest for yourself. The secret is just to write whenever the urge arises and sometimes even when it does not. The rewards of poetry are enriching and exquisite. You’ll see 🙂

Hope you liked the post and a thank you to all fellow bloggers from whom I nicked tips and photos. I hope I have put all the right credits in all the right places but if I haven’t, please let me know!

Happy National Poetry Month.

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