Thoughts on Writing Poetry

I’m strug­gling to write a poet­ic pic­ture book. To fill me with the metaphor, imagery, rhythm and meter that I’m striv­ing for, I’ve been read­ing oth­er books of poet­ry. Two inter­est­ing things hap­pened dur­ing today’s readings…
Gleams When Wet cover
First, I was read­ing Gleams When Wet by Debra Spencer. I had picked it up at Half Price Books on a whim, since I’m most­ly search­ing for ideas that have to do with water. Inter­est­ing­ly, it’s most­ly set in the Monterey/Santa Cruz, Cal­i­for­nia, area, which is where my old­est child is cur­rent­ly study­ing marine biol­o­gy, so that was a fun con­nec­tion. There are some beau­ti­ful and intrigu­ing poems in here, as well as insight­ful com­men­tary on life. It made for quite an enjoy­able after­noon. (Yes, sit­ting and read­ing poet­ry all after­noon is some­times actu­al­ly my job. How lucky am I!?) What par­tic­u­lar­ly struck me, how­ev­er, is the inscrip­tion from the author (“To XXX, anoth­er adven­tur­ous father, with love from Debra”) and the hand­writ­ten card still tucked inside: “Hap­py birth­day, XXX — I think you’ll enjoy this. Her poems are won­der­ful! See page 54! I also love Old Sailor’s Man­i­festo (p. 34) — and many oth­ers. Enjoy! Love, Mom” (*Note: Name changed to XXX to pro­tect the innocent. 😉)
When I first read these words, I was instant­ly sad­dened. His mom had poured so much love into this thought­ful gift (not to men­tion it was per­son­al­ized by the author)! How could he have giv­en it away to end up on the shelf at my local HPB? But then I thought, self­ish­ly, how lucky I was that he did, else I would nev­er have hap­pened upon it in my ran­dom HPB trea­sure hunt! Then I thought, maybe he read them and they just did­n’t con­nect. It’s kind of sad that Mom missed the mark, but hey, it hap­pens. Hope­ful­ly, he appre­ci­at­ed the thought, at least. Or maybe he read them and loved them, tak­ing pic­tures of or typ­ing up his favorites to file them away dig­i­tal­ly rather than clut­ter­ing up his phys­i­cal space. In the end, I’ve decid­ed, it does­n’t mat­ter why he did­n’t trea­sure it. The real gift was in the giv­ing. No mat­ter what XXX felt about the gift or his rea­sons for pass­ing it on, it warms my heart to think that his mom loved him, that she also loved words, and that she want­ed to share them with him. As I strug­gle with my poet­ry project, I have often thought that per­haps it’s not worth it, per­haps it’s too far out­side of my wheel­house and I should stick to what I’m good at, per­haps no one will ever read or care about my words. Per­haps Debra thought that, too, before Mom came to get Gleams When Wet signed for her son. Per­haps, if I keep strug­gling, some oth­er Mom will lov­ing­ly buy my poet­ic pic­ture book for her child, and I’ll to get sign it, “To XXX, with love.”
River of Words cover
Anoth­er book that struck me was Riv­er of Wordsedit­ed by Pamela Michael. It’s a col­lec­tion of poems writ­ten by young people–many as young as 6 or 7–about the nat­ur­al world. And. it. is. so. good! Not only did it do exact­ly what I was hop­ing for–filling my artist’s well with even more water images and metaphors to poten­tial­ly use in my own project–but it was incred­i­bly inspir­ing as well. Yes, these young writ­ers are clear­ly very tal­ent­ed, but they are cer­tain­ly not pro­fes­sion­al poets.  Yet, their poems sing with mean­ing. The depths of what they are able to say with so few words reminds me why I’m try­ing to com­plete this project in the first place, to con­vey some­thing that is deep and mean­ing­ful to me to young read­ers. And the suc­cess the poems achieve in con­vey­ing each indi­vid­ual author’s essence gives me hope that per­haps my poet­ry can one day make that kind of con­nec­tion with read­ers, too.
So, thank you to the poets out there strug­gling to make your words and mean­ing flow. Thank you to pub­lish­ers who still believe in cre­at­ing beau­ti­ful poet­ry books for chil­dren and adults. And thank you to every­one who buys books to share with those you love. 💛

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