Writing Poetry

I had an interesting, writerly sort of day today. It wasn’t supposed to be a writerly day, actually. I started the day by grading final portfolios for my classes, and then went into the university to meet with a student and pick up a few portfolios that were coming in late. But before I sat down to grade this morning, while I was eating breakfast, I fiddled with a poetry collection that I’m supposed to be working on, trying to figure out how to get the poems in the right order within their sections. Trying to find a logical flow from poem to poem.

And then, after meeting with the student, I drove to Harvard Square and went into my favorite stationary shop, Bob Slate, which makes the notebooks I use for writing. Spiral bound, narrow ruled, with Bob Slate Stationer written on the cover. And I bought some notebooks, also Bob Slate, small enough so they will fit into my purse. I still remember being in the museum and having nothing to write on. That’s not going to happen to me again.

Then I drove home and found a couple of things in the mailbox: the new Locus, a Locus subscription renewal form (which I will of course fill out, because I cannot live without Locus), and Mythic Delirium 23, which you can order through the Mythic Delirium website. Here’s what it looks like:

I particularly like this cover because it goes with one of the two poems I have in the issue, “Death.” The other poems is called “As I Was Walking.” “Death” is a love poem that begins,

The night has gathered around me. I think of Death,
Who breathes so softly beside my ear, like a lover.
Softly he whispers, “This will soon be over.
You will lay those bones and heavy body down.”

All my poems about death are personifications, and all of them are love poems. Not because I’m a particularly grim person, I think, but because of all the bad boys out there, Death is the baddest of them all. Don’t you think?

Why do I write poetry? For the fame and fortune, of course. (Are you laughing?) But seriously, I write poetry because it’s in me, and if I don’t get out the things that are in me, I become sick. I think I’m sick now because I have so many stories inside my head, and they’re making my head hurt. And I have poems in there too, although fewer than I used to. But I would like to write more.

Yes, I did mention that I’m trying to put together a poetry collection. (Did you pick up on that?) I don’t know how it will turn out, and although I have confidence in my prose, I don’t have the same confidence in my poetry, primarily because of some negative experiences in undergraduate poetry classes. (Evidently it’s fine to write about a Buddhist monk wandering around a hardware store, but not about a woman who, one day, discovers that dragons have moved into her apartment. Small ones. “They got tangled in the hangers.” I still remember that line.)

So I’m fiddling and worrying, worrying and fiddling, wondering if I can be excused from writing Significant Modern Poetry if I come out and say, “Look, this is in the tradition of Walter de la Mare, not T.S. Eliot.” After all, Jane Yolen and Neil Gaiman write poetry that has a mythic dimension, that has in fact appeared in Mythic Delirium. I’ll just go sit at their table, thank you. Where we write poems about witches and ogres, and how to survive fairy tales, and all that sort of stuff.

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5 Responses to Writing Poetry

  1. Alan Yee says:

    Ever since Mike announced that all the contributor and subscription copes of Mythic Delirium 23 have been shipped, I’ve been checking the mailbox every day. I can’t wait to read all the poems!

    And I do hope you succeed in putting together and selling your poetry collection.

  2. rushmc says:

    Poetry is a funny thing. Most of the people who think they’ve figured out the “right way to write it” have only figured out how to write like other people who have written poetry that they like (or that critics like). You wrote recently about finding one’s voice as a writer, and I think while it is extremely important in fiction, it is critical in poetry. If you are content to write like other people, then why not just give up the writing and be a reader and read their stuff instead? The fact is that there is nothing that cannot be successfully addressed in poetry; it’s just all in the doing. So I definitely think you are on the right track.

    But what do I know? I’m so crazy, I walked away from the whole world several years ago to spend my time and energies writing poems and reading (not just poetry). YMMV.

  3. Caitlyn says:

    I am so excited to share a ToC with you! I think perhaps death is a theme in this issue… the cover is well suited to my poem, too!

  4. Caitlyn, did you ever visualize that back when you were presenting your final project? It’s nice to see how completely you’ve become part of this strange fantasy writing world that we all share . . .

    Well, all of your comments are inspiring me to go work on the poetry collection!

  5. John McVey says:

    You wrote — and I enjoyed — this :
    “Evidently it’s fine to write about a Buddhist monk wandering around a hardware store, but not about a woman who, one day, discovers that dragons have moved into her apartment. Small ones. ‘They got tangled in the hangers.’ I still remember that line.”

    Caught it whilst working on my “hardware store literature” page
    hardware stores in poetry, fiction, art, etc.
    (I grew up in a hardware store, is all I can say in defense…)

    Wondered what the Buddhist monk wandering story might be. Could be Katie Norton, “A Buddhist Monk at Home Depot,”

    or something else? but whatever, I liked your sentence, particularly the hangers (= ghost catchers, I suppose).

    There’s at least this connection between stationers (you mention Bob Slate)
    and hardware stores —

    “Whenever I pass a stationery or hardware store, it’s all I can do to keep from going in….”
    Lin Yutang (1895-1976). “On Shopping.” Translated by King-fai Tam. In Joseph S. M. Lau and Howard Goldblatt, eds., The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature (1996) : pp 653-656

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