Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing "Place Poems"

iowa by Orangexmas,

Writing "Place Poems"

Writing poetry is, admittedly, not my first love. It's actually one of the most challenging forms of written expression I've attempted. Don't get me wrong, I love reading it and I like writing it, but I typically default into nonfiction mode or the comfortable, king-sized bed of fiction. Prose just allows you to breathe more. It allows you to wander a little. It's a passive parent who lets you go over to the neighbor's house. It gives you an hour to convey a message. Poetry is more assertive. It has no time for long strings of adjectives. It demands you know the exact meanings of words. It gives you five minutes to explain yourself and it had better be good. A lot of times, you can salvage a story. Sometimes a poem fails outright. On top of that as well, not everyone enjoys poetry or "gets it." I haven't met one adult yet who has told me they don't enjoy reading short stories or novels. Some people prefer one over the other, but everyone seems to find something interesting. That probably has something to do with how many different styles and genres are out there. There aren't nearly as many published poets as novelists and a simple perusal of the poetry section at your local bookstore will prove that.

I'm lucky. I rarely get writer's block. That's not to say I don't get stuck, but I'm comfortable with moving onto something else for awhile and then coming back. I don't get the kind you see in movies where somebody is so stuck they can't put a single sentence down. With poetry though, I find myself getting stuck quite often. Writing poetry is, as I suppose with any art form, a task that lightens the more you do it. I haven't been much of a believer lately in inspiration. I think it's pretty overrated to be honest and it can stifle your creativity when you sit around waiting for it to happen. The best thing to do is usually just to get something out and revise later. That's surprisingly hard to do with poetry. It's harder to fake than fiction. It's so emotion based that I can't always pull it off. And yet that strain is something I know is good for me. It's always worthwhile to challenge yourself. The more poetry I write, the more I can feel it informing my prose.

My latest poetic endeavors have been concerned with writing a series of ten poems for my Frost/Hearst class. Inspired by both of them as poets of place, I decided to try my hand at writing my own Midwestern poetry. So far, it's going slowly, but surely. One of the most valuable things I feel I've learned about my own poetic goals is to speak the truth as often as I can. I'm addicted to telling stories, so naturally last year when I returned to poetry I was breaking out my storyteller tools, making up abridged fictions. One was about the history of a Russian watch, another was about sharing an afterlife with Dracula, another was about kids playing Rock Band, and more than a couple were about insane people, the easiest topic in the world for me to write about. The poems I wrote that are drawn from real experiences are so much more valuable and important. For this project, I'm trying to write two poems about South Dakota, three about Minnesota, and five about Iowa. The Iowa ones are tough. I don't feel as connected to the land as I do in other places. I know I've learned things about nature there, but it's hard to bring it out when you're right there in the midst of it all. The Romantics felt the need to remove themselves from nature in order to more accurately talk about it. I can understand their point. When it's right in your face, it feels trivial.

Two weeks left of graduate school and then I have to rejoin the real world. Wish me luck.


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