When I first began making collections for my poetry, it was suggested that I call the collection “Reflections on Life.” I felt like that wouldn’t be the best title to publish my work. I decided instead on “From the Pages of Spiral Notebooks” for my first small collection, since that’s the medium in which my poetry adventures began. However, it’s true many of my poems are indeed reflections on life. So, that’s an idea that I’d like to discuss: how much of my poetry is made up of actual reflections on life?
For Christmas one year, I was asked what sort of books I would want to read. I made a request for poetry related books. While I’ve written hundreds of poems over the years, I have always found myself rather disconnected from pursuing the art on a regular basis. I’ve long reserved poetry as a means of expressing thoughts, emotions, or ideas. At times, I have some jumbled thoughts that seem to loosely fit together, but wouldn’t be easily put into prose. Writing poetry, then, became a reflex, as much of my writing has become.
It’s quite fortunate then that I was given a book about teaching children to write poetry. It’s an older book, but just as relevant today as it was in the 1970s: Wishes, Lies and Dreams by Kenneth Koch. It was a big deal when it was first published. Sadly, the great lessons the book teaches seemingly have been forgotten by many people today.
Writing Poetry VS Writing Stories
When I was a child, our classes were sometimes instructed to write stories. My first few stories were absolute nonsense, yet they were often enjoyed. I often dreamed of one day becoming a novelist. But, proper plot structure and development were aspects of literature that long eluded me.
My imagination rarely remains on a single thread for long. That’s because my brain is ready to move on soon after I start. I’ve worked on these things mightily over the years, but it’s true that poetry comes far more naturally to me than long-form stories.
After I found that writing stories wasn’t fulfilling for me, I shifted my focus to writing song lyrics. Of course, without musical accompaniment, they were “just” poems. I was rarely happy with my work. It was often very emotionally charged and often took cues from my dreams and my imagination.
In retrospect, a lot of my early poetry was good. Of course, a lot of it wasn’t. But, as I look back at my older pieces over time, I’m not so sure what I inevitably discarded was so bad after all.
Some years ago, I shifted back to writing stories. I created a great many colorful characters and imagined complex backdrops, both political and natural. Still, I struggled to get it all to work in harmony. It was suggested to me several times to turn my creative work into poems. But, there was too much of a disconnect between poems and story writing for me that I could hardly attempt it. A few decent poems came out of it, though, it never became a regular outlet for me.
Are My Poems Reflections or Distortions of Life?
Going back to the idea of my poetry generally being reflections on life, from certain perspectives many of them probably are. Of course, many reflections will also inevitably become distortions. But, distortions of life does not make for a “sexy” collection title, nor is it an accurate choice for putting a collective take on my works of verse.
This is when I thought of taking cues from Koch’s work with grade-school children. Poems should be of the stuff of wishes, real or crazy. Poems should be the stuff of lies – innocent, pretty, or gross. Poems should be the stuff of dreams, free to associate even in the most seemingly absurd ways.
The work of a young poet should begin with “I wish” or “I dream,” Koch says. This way, it’s easy to make comparisons with seemingly disparate things to form vivid images. It’s much too easy as an adult to let conventions and fear of rejection color our work or, worst of all, force it into some sort of blandness.
Poetry is a creative art just like drawing, painting, sculpting or crafting, just with words. So, the last thing you want to do is over-complicate poetry. Poetry offers a sort of freedom that no other art form I’ve found can offer. It should be an accessible art for everyone, it should be free to express, and begin and end only with a simple idea. Complexity can come with time and practice, but poetry isn’t meant for dissertations, after all.
As I continued to delve more into reading about how to teach poetry, I rediscovered my love of the craft. Perhaps, my true calling is to be a poet of sorts. But, my aim has and never will be to have my verses be the stuff of legend. I just need to say what should be said. For even in the lies of poetry, there is always a hint of truth.
~ Amelia <3