Poetry as No Big Deal, by Wendy DeRaud




Every Wednesday evening I go to the local bookstore by myself to write. I was reading, "Writing With Power", by Peter Elbow. He is a marvelous writer and even better when he writes about how to write. I came upon a chapter that I found very appealing, "Poetry as No Big Deal".

Elbow believes that the best way to write poetry is not to have an idea of what to write about, but to let the poem's meaning and subject matter "emerge by itself so it isn't too falsely poetic or fake or manipulated." He offered several formulas, starting lines, rules to obey, to inspire the aspiring poet to be less self-conscious and avoid the pretentiousness that sometimes comes across with poetry.

Here's the list that I was able to pull out of the chapter:

  1. Start each line with, "I wish"
  2. Start each line with, "Once."
  3. Start each line with, "Now", Yes", "No", "And".
  4. Start each line with the name of someone you know.
  5. Make every line of the poem a lie.
  6. Each line must mention a color.
  7. Each line must mention a Spanish word.
  8. Each line must mention a body part.
  9. Have a rule you must obey, and don't dawdle!
  10. Try a Haiku: 3 lines, 1st line, 5 syllables, 2nd line, 7 syllables, 3rd lines, 5 syllables.
  11. Write a poem about a family member, each line starting with, "I remember".
  12. Start 3 4-line stanzas with "I remember". Get some form of "remember" (memory, recall, etc.) in each 4th line. Repeat some word or phrase in line 2 & 3.
  13. Write about an object that you see, and begin with: "The (object) (verb), and in a line or two say, "It makes me...", then somewhere include a question.
  14. Do the above about a room or a place. Use 3 stanzas, the 4th stanza with no question.
  15. Insist the poem start off with a short bit of actual speech, maybe unfinished.
  16. Begin with a swear word.
  17. Write a poem as a real letter to a real person.
  18. Fight the demon trying to keep you from writing.
  19. Make the demon talk to you.

Here's what I wrote last night for #18:


How I Took Him Out

Back off, Mr. Moonshine

The one who tried to keep me back

I shake you off my back

This time

I have the upper hand

You can't take from me now

I hold the key and the lock

I hold the name and the title deed

I hold the truth to your lies

The light to your shadows

The clarity to your blurriness

You are no longer able to hide

I am out and alive

Able to take you on

Holding your nose in the dust

My strength arises out of this battle

For I am winning as I surrender

Letting my King roar the true roar

Maybe you'll be inspired by this list of rules and formulas so you can launch into some poetry of your own. You can write a poem to the demon that's trying to keep you from writing, painting, dancing, or singing, and see what you have to say, it may just shut him up.