On One Hand

September 23, 2005

How to Not Write a Poem

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 4:48 pm
Tags: ,

This is only a musing.

I can never write poetry. I don’t mean that in a defeatist way; the problem with me writing poetry has to do with the complexities of what poetry is and when it is. As any poet will tell you, there are times when you feel it and times you don’t. You can’t just wake up in the morning and scribble a poem like it’s breakfast or your first cigarette. You must have noticed something beautiful about waking up before you wrote a poem about it. To make it work you have to feel it.

Not that I don’t feel it. I felt poetry today while I was walking home just now, and I felt it last night when I was holding someone, and I felt it a few nights ago with some friends and I was feeling tumultuously conflicted at the time. When I’m walking and I feel the rhythm of my feet as they place themselves across the pavement, that’s poetry. When I see an ash tree with its leaves beginning to furl and yellow standing out above newly sodded grass that didn’t take, that’s poetry. When I look into molasses-colored eyes and run my thumb over his eyebrows and cheeks, that’s poetry. So I sit down in front of paper and a pen, holding the smooth cylinder in my hand and noticing the crispness of the fresh sheet, hoping to write. And that is poetry, in its fresh entirety, the perfect moment of momentum and whole potential in itself, so the poem doesn’t need anything more to be complete. And we know that poetry is about reducing to that minimum, nothing more, so if I were to actually start writing something I wouldn’t have poetry but excess. I might get something on paper but I won’t feel it anymore. So you can see I can’t write poetry when I don’t feel it, but I stop feeling it whenever I write. That’s why I can never write poetry.

What I write instead are philosophisings, thoughts, or memories; call them what you want. I can make them look like poems, and occasionally, by luck, they’ll evoke. But they aren’t poems. People think it’s poetry if I break it up into small lines, which can lead to something interesting – the trick to breaking up the lines is taking something complete and splitting it into items, or thoughts, at semi-logical places in what is really always a whole. It’s kind of the way scientists split the digestive system into four main parts when it’s really all one tube, or the way geographers split long ridges into individual peaks when it’s really a connected mass of rock. Then at least it looks like poetry.

Basically, start with a paragraph of thought, whatever you want to say, and then type it and press [enter] here and there until you have the appearance of a poem. See if you like it; if not, try breaking it up again. I will example as follows:

Basically [enter]
Start with a paragraph (of thought). [enter]
Whatever you want to say [enter]
press [enter]
[enter] here and there until [enter]
you have it – [enter]
the appearance [enter]
of [enter]
a poem. [enter]

Now read that twice and tell me it hasn’t begun to dig furrows in your mind like rivulets of rainwater in soil. The more disjointed the rhythm the more contagious the rhythm – this is what your subconscious seeks to wrap around, to make sense of. If you felt it, you just wrote a poem inside yourself. If you ever read anything and loved it, you just wrote a poem.

But I didn’t write one. I just typed some words and pressed the [enter] key. You can ignore the last five paragraphs, actually.

If you must have a thesis, I will try:
To appreciate is the true creative process, not composing. The creator only screens infinite stimuli for those with potential to evoke…the artist is the one who understands it and stares bleary-eyed at the page, saying nothing
everything is poetry.
And, this is more of a thought experiment/musing than me actually trying to say something sweeping or transendant.



  1. This semester I have to write two literary analysis papers on two books. Any suggestions? I’m looking for something to do with gay youth etc.

    Comment by coldrainyday — September 23, 2005 @ 11:13 pm | Reply

    • Hmm….

      What kinds of books do they have to be?

      I don’t know much about gay youth particularly but David Sedaris is an excellent gay writer who wrote about his youth among other things. His books are considered memoirs and are filed with nonfiction. My favorite was Me Talk Pretty One Day, followed by Naked.

      A book called Maurice by E.M. Forster was about a gay man of college age, almost a century ago. But to be honest, I haven’t read many gay-themed books.

      Comment by ononehand — September 23, 2005 @ 11:16 pm | Reply

  2. Pretty much on any subject, but I’m particulary interested books about guys figuring out their sexuality/coming out/things like that.

    I’ll check those books out, too.

    Comment by coldrainyday — September 23, 2005 @ 11:21 pm | Reply

  3. Typographical disjunction always seemed to cheapen poetry. I think paragraphs are beautiful.

    Comment by jk2703 — September 23, 2005 @ 11:52 pm | Reply

  4. You’re a poet and don’t know it

    When I look into molasses-colored eyes and run my thumb over his eyebrows and cheeks, that’s poetry.

    That’s beautiful

    Comment by boysname — October 10, 2005 @ 12:21 am | Reply

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