Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Beginnings of Poetry

Some time ago an older lady approached me. She explained that she had recently taken up the habit of writing down her thoughts and ideas, her observations and memories, all the little things that were important to her. These writings didn't seem to be stories or anything she could explain as such. Since I was a "well-known poet" could I look at her work and tell her if this was poetry? By then I was already holding the papers she had pushed toward me.

While I looked through her offering, the silence was interrupted only by my wordless mutterings. I knew she was looking for more than a simple yes or no; I had to find some kind explanation of the worth of her writings.

This, I told her, reminds me of the pile of stuff at the end of my garden after winter is over.Here you have a mass of stuff in no recognizable shape. There are stems and branches, some hard, some soft, some brittle. There are clumps of dry grass and old leaves in different states of decomposition. If someone only glanced at it they might consider it dead, worthless. You might get the same reaction to your writing, I warned her.

But among all that dry and brittle and worthless material, I went on, there are probably a few seeds ready to germinate in the coming warmer weather. What a gardener will do is find those seeds that are precious and will become the beautiful flowers she wants. She will carefully nurture them, probably use a compost of previously worthless stems and grasses, and give them every opportunity to become the best they can. And so it should be with your words and thoughts, your feelings and observations. It may seem like a formidable task. If you are not a gardener, you might not want to grow flowers from seed. If you are not a poet, you may not want to grub around in words until they are beautiful to many people. Just remember, there are tools available. The gardener has her seed catalogue, her different soils, her implements. The poet has books with examples and explanations, writers groups, and the traditions of those who have written poetry before. Use all the tools available and be the best gardener, be the best poet you can be.


annaken said...

Hello Jefferson,

I think you gave a nice word picture here and this will be very helpful to the lady.

Carolyn said...

That is a lovely idea, a fine metaphor for the creative process that is poetry writing.
We begin with so much, we prune it and we hope it flowers in the minds and hearts of our readers/listeners.