Write After Reading: Writing the Life Poetic (Chapter 30 and 38)
Welcome to another installment of Write After Reading: Writing the Life Poetic, a weekly online book club with poetry participation. It alternates between my blog and Laura’s blog. Last week, over at Laura’s blog, we talked about song lyrics as poems.
This week I wanted to touch on two chapters. Don’t sweat it too much. 🙂 They’re short. Chapter 30 really hit home with me as Sage discusses the idea of redefining “real work”. It took me back to March, when I took a month off to just play with no pressure to produce any writing at all. I did write, some, but it was writing for fun, for me and I enjoyed it a lot. I wrote snippets of poems that may grow longer or may linger in a journal. I wrote pages that don’t belong in any book I’m working on, at least not yet. But I admit that I still felt guilty for not working on a work-in-progress. I felt like I was cheating on myself.
In this chapter Sage says, “For the most part, the writing I do for love exists in the very small margin of the writing I do for money.” This is the way it is for most of the writers I know, especially the poets, because there’s not a lot of money in writing poetry so you ought to be doing it for love too. Or as Sage puts it, “Because it is rare to be paid for poetry, especially early in one’s journey, you do not owe anything to anyone but yourself”
What this chapter helped me to remember is that I came to writing by way of poetry back in the 7th grade, with no idea that I would ever publish poetry. Sometimes I pull my verse novel (Hugging the Rock) off the shelf and still feel that surprise that it was published. Because when I was writing it, I wasn’t thinking about the publishing, I was working out my life the way I best knew how to do it, with words and poems. My real work was in the writing of the book, the answering of internal questions and the putting many things to rest. This is what poetry does for me, it helps me sort out who I am at a particular point in my life and how I feel about that moment in time. I think that’s my real work when it comes to poetry.
Okay, on to chapter 38 which brings me back to junior high in a different way, Mad Libs. Remember them? Those goofy fill-in-the-blank word games? Sage doesn’t talk a lot in this chapter, it’s all about the exercises. The idea is to take the structure of one poem, remove some of the words, and following that structure, fill in the holes like you would have with a Mad Lib. Having much of the poem in place already makes this a quick exercise yet one with a lot of impact, especially if you keep playing with it. Somehow the idea that you only have to come up with one word here or another word there gives you a bit more confidence to push yourself outside the comfort zone you might normally write in. She shared three poems turned into Mad Libs. I chose one to play with.
Here is the original poem.
From Inside Great Distances
By Walid Bitar
From inside great distances (don’t call them dreams)
midnight is smaller than usual,
as are the ponies. Inside great distances,
unlike airplanes, are not seats
and the people far away enough
to shout to (at least the talk isn’t small)
have no laps or throats when they sit beside
their donkeys and Don Quixotes, pretending
to be mirages in a cold climate. The scenery
sharpens like a pencil in my ear.
It sketches itself, and I hear of this
a bird you can color with the whites
and marbles of villas back home, bird otherwise
invisible as the price of land.
An hour, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your breast, growing
it into days, months, years?
Leave it alone; visit me a little to
the North; people shave their heads
into mirrors here; I
remain (on the outside) myself.
Here is the template for the revision. My poem is below. Give it a try. Don’t think too much.
From Inside Great _______________
From inside great ______________ (don’t call them _____________)
________________ is smaller than usual,
as are the ______________. Inside great ______________,
unlike ______________, are not ______________
and the people ______________enough
to ______________ to (at least the ______________ isn’t small)
have no ______________ or ______________ when they sit beside
their ______________ and don ______________, pretending
to be ______________ in a cold climate. The scenery
sharpens like a ______________ in my ear.
It ______________ itself, and I hear of this
a ______________you can color with the whites
and marbles of ______________ back home, ______________ otherwise
invisible as the price of ______________.
An ______________, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your ______________, growing
it into ______________?
Leave it alone; ______________ me a little to
the ______________; people shave their heads
into ______________ here; I
remain (on the outside) ______________.
* * * * *
Okay, here’s my version:
From inside great families (don’t call them ancestors)
the sun is smaller than usual,
as are the stars. Inside great families,
unlike friendships, are not individuals
and the people don’t care enough
to save you (at least the memory isn’t small)
have no hope or dreams when they sit beside
their sons and daughters, pretending
to be happy in a cold climate. The scenery
sharpens like an icicle in my ear.
it melts, and I hear of this
a tragedy you can color with the whites
and marbles of grandmother’s parlor back home, tragedy otherwise
invisible as the price of love
a stray dog, too, is invisible; why are
you feeding it at your back door, growing
it into something you will love, something that will still die?
Leave it alone; remember me a little to
the future; people shave their heads
into crystal balls here; I
remain (on the outside) alone.