The final class in my “Lie, Cheat, & Steal” poetry workshop was last night. I feel a little bereft now. I kind of feel like I want to teach my own poetry workshop, maybe one entitled, “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing But Hey, Let’s Just Get Down with Some Words and See What Happens.”
It fascinates me how much more fun it is for me to talk about writing poetry than writing fiction. I took a lot of fiction-writing classes in my younger days, and also in regular English classes they always seemed to be going on about how to write fiction, and even though I like writing fiction it drives me nearly out of my mind to talk about it. I mean, it’s a story. Just tell the damn story.
I have never had a bad time talking about poetry, though. There’s always something to say. There’s always something to hear. Poetry is just crazy. No one really understands it, so you can kind of say anything.
Anyway. We did a couple of fun exercises, the first of which involved looking at a denatured, alphabetized list of all the words in someone else’s poem (we hadn’t read the original poem and didn’t know who wrote it), and trying to use just those words (some subset of them) to write our own poem. The words turned out to be from a pretty great poem by Li-Young Lee called “Early in the Morning“–we got to read it at the end. It was interesting, I found myself just trying to write haiku during this exercise, which I hadn’t done before in the class. My brain felt slow and small, which I think is probably normal. All I could come up with was this:
she pulls her head out
Which, appropriately, is a slow, small poem. Though I like it a little bit.
Second exercise: Writing a response to another poem. Taking their premise and some of their language to produce your own take on the situation. I’ve done this before, actually a fair amount, with haiku, but not with longer poems. I’m still working on my response, maybe I’ll put it out there when I’m done.
So: I’m a liar, a cheater, a thief. This appeals to my natural instinct to do whatever it is other people don’t want me to do, which is probably a healthy instinct for a poet. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) The thing with poetry is that you’re trying to see things the way everyone else doesn’t see them. It’s really hard to do. If you’re too much in sympathy with other people or find yourself agreeing with them most of the time, it’s even harder. You have to be a little bit contrary, possibly even slightly obnoxious, maybe even mildly criminal, though I would recommend against being positively mean or getting arrested. Unless you feel that a lengthy period of solitary confinement would be beneficial for your creative development, but probably better to just find a cave or something in that case. Let me know if you find a good one.
moonlight where the word is not enough