When I was collecting my poetry, it was suggested to me that I call the collection Reflections on Life. I felt like that wouldn't be the best title to publish my work. I decided instead on From the Pages of Spiral Notebooks, for that's the medium in which my poetry adventures began. However, many of my poems are indeed reflections on life. So, that's an idea that I'd like to discuss.
For Christmas one year, I was asked what sort of books I would want to read. I made a request for poetry related books. While I've written hundreds of poems over the years, I have always found myself rather disconnected from pursuing the art on a regular basis. I've long reserved poetry as a means of expressing thoughts emotions or ideas. At times, I have some jumbled thoughts that seem to loosely fit together, but wouldn't be easily put into prose. Poetry, therefore, became a reflex, as much of my writing has become.
It's quite fortunate then that one of my best friends gave me a book about teaching children to write poetry. It's actually a rather old book, but just as relevant today as it was in the 1970s. It is entitled Wishes, Lies and Dreams by Kenneth Koch. It was a big deal when it was first published and sadly the great lessons it teaches have seemingly been forgotten by many people today.
When I was a child, our classes were sometimes instructed to write stories. My first few stories were absolute nonsense, but yet they were enjoyed. I often dreamed of one day becoming a novelist. But proper plot structure and development are two aspects of literature that have long eluded me. My imagination rarely remains on a single thread for long. My brain is ready to move on soon after I start.
Eventually realizing this, I shifted my focus to writing songs. But without musical accompaniment, they were “just” poems. I was rarely happy with my work. It was often very emotionally charged and often took cues from my dreams and my imagination. Actually, a lot of it was really good as I look back at it. Of course, a lot of it wasn't. But as I've looked back at my older pieces over time, I'm not so sure what I inevitably discarded was so bad after all.
Some years ago, I shifted back to writing stories. I created a great many colorful characters and imagined complex backdrops, both political and natural. But I never could get it all to work in harmony. It was suggested to me several times to work my creative work into poems. But, there was too much of a disconnect between poems and story writing for me that I could hardly attempt it. A few decent poems came out of it, and all are published in some form today. But it never became a regular outlet for me.
Are My Poems Reflections or Distortions of Life?
Going back to the idea of my poetry generally being reflections on life, from certain perspectives many of them probably are. But necessarily, reflections will also become distortions. But, distortions of life does not make for a “sexy” collection title, nor is it an accurate choice for putting a collective take on my works of verse.
This is when I realized that in my future poetry I should take cues from Koch’s work with Grade school children. Poems should be of the stuff of wishes, real or crazy. Poems should be the stuff of lies - innocent, pretty, or gross. Poems should be the stuff of dreams, free to associate even in the most seemingly absurd ways.
The work of a young poet should begin with “I wish” or “I dream,” Koch says. This way it's easy to make comparisons with seemingly disparate things to form vivid images. It's much too easy as an adult to let conventions and fear of rejection color our work, or worst of all force it into some sort of blandness.
Poetry is a creative art just like drawing, painting, sculpting or crafting. Poetry is doing all of these things in fact, but with words. And the last thing you want to do is over-complicate poetry.
The best part of poetry is that it offers a sort of freedom that no other art form I've found can offer. It should be an accessible art for everyone. It should be free to express and begin and end only with a simple idea. Complexity can come with time and practice, but poetry is not meant for dissertations, after all.
As I continue to delve more into reading about how to teach poetry, I certainly will have much more to say on the subject. But most of all, I need to rediscover my love of the craft. Perhaps to be a poet is my true calling. But my aim has and never will be to have my verses be the stuff of legend. I just need to say what should be said.
For even in the lies of poetry, there is always a hint of truth.