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Where Does a Poem Come From?

April is National Poetry Month. With that in mind, I decided to attempt to answer the following questions posed by Carol at A Revision.

1. Where do your poems start? What causes you to sit down and write a poem? Is it a certain emotion?

Poetry is a constant in my life. I seem to have a need to interpret everything into the voice of my own spirit in order to better understand it. When I haven’t written any poetry in awhile, I become irritable and restless. At those times, I think of writing as taking my physic blood pressure, and I use the pen to get a diagnosis as well as for the treatment. Other times, poetry begins on its own as a rhythmic line I can use as springboard, or a thought that I recognize as an original one. It’s like coming across a shiny coin that wants to be picked up and then spent.

2. Do you have different stages to your poetry? Can you see how you've matured or changed over the years through your poetry?

The foundation I write from has been informed by my genetic, environmental, and working class background. My love of language was first awakened by nursery rhymes, jump rope songs, and the songs of the 40s that my father taught me. I first started writing poetry after being inspired by the music of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and others. I’m amazed by all the time I’ve put into writing over the years and still today, and that I actually want to write. I can see the kernel of my early writing in everything I write today. That kernel is only now coming to fruition, 30 years later.

3. Do you have a favorite poem that you have written? What do you like about it? What does it say about you that you like?

I’m usually excited by the new work I’m engaged in. Like a mother with children, it’s hard to pick favorites. I like the ones that are the most honest, where I was able to find a particular nerve and hit it, or ones that are condensed to the point where the lines are almost interchangeable. I like the ones that were fun to write and are fun to read. “Where I’m From,” about the place and the people that I’ve been steeped in, is one that was rewarding to write. I discovered through writing it that growing up by the ocean was as formative to me as my family environment was.

4. Do you have a favorite that someone else has written? What does it do for you? Does it give you an answer or cause you to think a certain way? Does it motivate you?

If you ask this question on another day, I might say something different, but today two poems come to mind. One is by Richard Brautigan. I like Brautigan’s humor and his ability to distill an image down. It’s a 7 line poem that ends with… A fly is sleeping…on a paper napkin. I have to wake him up, so I can wipe my glasses. There's a pretty girl I want to look at.

The other poem “Long Life, is by a Japanese poet named IKIYU, written when he was 70. I first heard it by way of storyteller and mythologist Michael Meade. I like the way the poem surprises, like cold water splashed in my face, not to be hurtful but to wake me up. It ends… Face it! You're happy! How many times do I have to say it? There is no way not to be who you are, and where.

5. Do you only write poetry or is it a part of a vast array of writing methods that you use to express your self or your thoughts?

My voice came first, the technical skill came slower and later and is something I’ll always be working on. Through poetry I’ve learned how to tell a story, a mythical one with a beginning, a point, and a resolution. I’ve learned what sounds good together, not to waste words, and how to tie pieces together.

When my brothers died in 2001, I intended to write poetry as a way to process the grief, but I ended up writing a book instead. I remember feeling liberated by how much room prose allowed me and how specific I could be with it. But if I’m writing too much prose, I begin to need a vacation. Prose is like the day job and poetry is the rest of my life.

Poets On Stage and Other Notes:
1. Lovers of the Spoken Word are meeting for Floyd’s monthly open mic at the Café Del Sol this Saturday from 7-9 pm.
2. My radio essay “Is It Summer Yet” (also about the place and people that shaped me) is being aired today on WVTF Public Radio. You can hear it here.
3. We had our second Floyd Blogger Meet-up yesterday. David from Ripples blogged about it today, complete with pictures. Go on over and visit.


I actually used to write poems from 13 to about 17 or so. I was really deep about things I guess in those years. I found some recently mom had stuck back in a drawer.

I read them and couldn't believe I actually wrote anything like that and have never been able to since. It may be because I quit around the same time I discovered alcohol. Maybe that took my creativity....or maybe I just got hard.

Hello from Michele's. I'm with deana. Poetry used to flow from my pen very easily when I was an agnst-filled teen, but now... I can still write, but it's like I have to force it.

Happy Easter.

I got as far as the link to your poem "Where I'm From.' and after reading it, I just had to post. This is the first time that I have read this poem. I love the images that come to my mind from just a few words, I love the smells and the memories, even though I was never there! No wonder it is one of your favorite poems. What kind of day was it or time in your life when you wrote it?

It was actually a meme of sorts that came from Fred's site, fragmentsfromfloyd.com, and he got it from George Ella Lyon's book, "Where I'm From" in which she teaches writing poetry. I think you should try it, Tabor. I've seen people who don't write poetry do so and come up with some powerful stuff. Follow the links which explains the idea. Fred even has a template for it http://www.swva.net/fred1st/wif.htm Let me know if you try it!

Thanks Colleen for answering the Poetry Ballot. I am proud to be surrounded by so many poets.

Your poem "Where I'm From" is wonderful. It made me feel teary inside.

It is Carol again. I wanted to look at the link at Fred's site, but it is not linking.

Hi Carol, I wonder why it doesn't work. If you got to my sidebar categories and click on "A Poem: Where I'm From" or click on the one in this post that takes you to the poem. Fred's template link works from there. Let me know if you try it.

Thanks Colleen. It does work on the other links!
This will work as another National Poetry Month event. I will link to both you and Fred as examples too. (Saturday or Monday, probably)

As a web admin person and an info person who deals with this stuff daily, the problem is that the active link from above includes a period. If you link then remove the period taht appears in the path when you get the error page on the browser, and hit enter, or go or whatever you use, it will work.

For me poetry goes in cycles, not the writing but the reading.
Sometimes I love it, love exploring new poets and themes.
Other times the scientist comes out and I just don't get it. Either the subject is completely foreign or the angst deeper than I've ever had. During those times I fall back on the old favorites such as Frost, Nash and even Longfellow.

lovely post... and i like being given extra struff to investigate, though it will have to be later! its bed time here* i will come back and read..
i recently found some very old poems i wrote as a teen...dreadful and embarrasing but still funny, i posted one on my blog (the post's called walk a mile in my shoes). i never write poetry now. probably a good thing. but i do love to read it.

i'm here via michele*

I love that poem, Colleen, "Where I Come From"...Wonderful, Wonderful. The images evoke many pictures in the minds-eye, which I think is what makes any writing meaningful and successful, in the sense of communication, you know?
Thanks for this lovely post, my dear.
I'm here from Michele's today. And I wish you a very very Happy Easter!

Hi, I haven't been around in a while but I am glad I stopped by. I really enjoyed this post.


i'm no poetica
tho to one i wed
she so word fluent
i jus natty dread

one fine day
i will write as well
mo truths then metaphors
no tall tales i'll tell

I'll have to go straight to Carol's, A Revision, but first, I'm inspired to comment here to say - yes, I LOVE "Where I'm From." One might think it's because I'm from there too, but I think it's more, which I think answers the first question as well.

1. Where do your poems start? What causes you to sit down and write a poem? Is it a certain emotion?

My answer is that for me, poetry is the language of our soul. And what causes us to sit and write it down, is that we all have deep within us, a stirring or perhaps an awareness of this deeper part of ourselves. Writing helps us to touch it, if only fleetingly.

jumping to # 4. Do you have a favorite that someone else has written? What does it do for you? Does it give you an answer or cause you to think a certain way? Does it motivate you?

My answer is that I prefer storytelling to poetry for the most part, maybe because I never stuck to writing poems, but having tasted it, mostly while I was in my twenties when I was sorting out Life, I can say it's like making love (I'll leave it at that).

I recently wrote here about the storyteller, Clarissa Pinkola Estes, who takes my breath away. Mention of her and storytelling does fit in well with the question asked because, I do think, storytellers hit the same place in us that poetry does.

Recently, I talked about both, Clarissa Pinkola Estes and the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. They both make me FEEL. And may I say too, (although this IS getting long) that when reading Heaney's poems and also, his 1995 Nobel Lecture, I felt the same thing I felt the first time I read your "Where I'm From." Here's a sentence or two from that lecture. He speaks so poetically!

Seamus Heaney:
But it was not only the earth that shook for us: the air around and above us was alive and signalling too. When a wind stirred in the beeches, it also stirred an aerial wire attached to the topmost branch of the chestnut tree. Down it swept, in through a hole bored in the corner of the kitchen window, right on into the innards of our wireless set where a little pandemonium of burbles and squeaks would suddenly give way to the voice of a BBC newsreader speaking out of the unexpected like a deus ex machina. And that voice too we could hear in our bedroom, transmitting from beyond and behind the voices of the adults in the kitchen; just as we could often hear, behind and beyond every voice, the frantic, piercing signalling of morse code.

(sorry so long - I won't answer the other questions lol).

Poetry arises from a Romantic temperament. Lines come without a story, without purely objective meaning. That is what separates poetry from prose. These lines trigger an exhumation and investigation on the part of the poet. Those who are open to reading poetry begin their own process of exhuming and interpreting the lines. It is not a matter of following a narrative thread or story. It is a matter of revelation through feeling--an objective/subjective connection to the work not unlike the poet’s connection to the work.
Technique is always in the background and hardly worth mentioning. It must be said, though, that there is very little so called "free verse" that is any good at all. And most of what we have since World War II is free verse. Tough state of affairs!

Thanks for weighing in here, Rick. I should add that when I say poetry has taught me how to tell a story, I mean in a mythical sense.

I appreciate everyone's feedback.

I'm off to a poetry reading tonight! I have such a love/hate relationship with those things!

PS I do think that if poetry is written and read via a revelation of feeling and with an objective/subjective connection to it, then it is through that same manner that we decide, or feel/know what is good or not. Something more to think about. This is a big topic.

A Myth is a lie that tells the truth.

Oh yours was by far more interesting than mine. I have to look up this Richard Brautigan chap. Sounds just up my line.

Eeek--I did kind of weigh in. Every now and then I find an soapbox someone left around. Always trouble.

I guess Homer did tell a story! You're right about myth. Didn't mean to preclude that.

Hope the reading went well. Wish I was there!~,:^)

"Prose is the day job and poetry is the rest of my life"

"Poetry comes--
from the spark
that ignites
the human soul"
(c)jfrancis 1.8.8

I have been preparing to address an area poetry club in a
few weeks and found your site. Since the subject is to be
'where does poetry come from',I found you on the net while
trolling.(my good fortune) shortly after reading your line above,
I wrote the second piece above. would never have written it
had it not been for you! thanks is a poor measure for the
richness of your life.

flinttexas usa

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