The subtitle of the book Writing Poetry to Save Your Life, by Maria Mazziotti Gillan bravely states: “How to Find the Courage To Tell Your Stories”. I could not resist the seemingly audacious promise made on the front cover, and I found the chapters inside the bright yellow and orange book did not disappoint.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 12 in the author’s voice, which I think encapsulates how she puts theory into practice:
“Often students come into a class believing that poems have to rhyme and that only poems that rhyme are real poems. I want you to think of poetry as a very elastic form. The line between poetry and prose has eroded so that a poem can be one word on a line or ten-word lines or twenty-word lines or it can be blocked out so it looks like a square paragraph. Try not to concentrate on form, but rather on content. Let the poem be what it wants to be…..This advice also applies to personal essays, memoir, or even to English compositions. The first and most important thing is to get the content onto paper.”
I am so on the same page with the author. First of all, I cannot for the life of me write a poem that rhymes that makes any sense. Second, the elasticity of poetry has been my saviour—for even when I write a haiku—I find that sometimes I cannot keep the syllable count to a perfect 17 (there are many forms of haiku—the most familiar being three lines with five syllables in the first, seven in the second and five in the third). And third, I have written many a prose poem, and even tried my hand at one that took the form of a Christmas tree (yes, it was a Christmas tree poem—I am one for the obvious).
Content is king, and as such I agree with Gillan that poetry will find its form. She devotes over half of her book to prompts which inspire that form. Here are just a few to get your creative juices flowing. Some are ideas and some are lines to incorporate into your poem; all of them are prompts:
1. What is it inside that is missing?
2. Use the word “after” or “because” as the first word of the first line and repeat it throughout the poem.
3. Being loud enough to wake the dead….
4. Write about a time you were silent and didn’t want to be.
5. Perfect circles…………
I have to turn out a weekly column for 51 weeks of the year, and quite a few of them have been derived from her prompts—so these little aides-memoiries do not have to apply to poetry exclusively.
Do you believe content is king or do you use another method to get your creative juices flowing?