How I Write Poetry
I vividly remember how I wrote my first poem when I was a sophomore. We had finished analyzing a poem, and our Literature Teacher selected twelve words from the text and asked us to either compose a poem or to write a paragraph using them. I being an enterprising person wrote a poem that took me more than three hours to write. Though I only managed to use eight words, still I was glad I did it since only handful of students had opted for poetry. It was a forced writing I would say because all the words had to be used, making the theme almost the same as the original poem. But it spurred me on to create more. Now, after two decades of writing poetry, it takes me minutes to express my feelings in words.
Wordsworth said, “Poetry is a spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…and emotions recollected in tranquility.” Very true! It is these feelings that impel us to compose whether we are happy or dejected. A poet needs to have that sensitivity to empathize and creativity to express her emotions into words. I guess all creative people, be it an artist, a painter, an author or a poet, are sensitive to their environment and express themselves in various forms.
My ideas originate from the environment I live in as I am conscious of it. My poetry goes through three stages. When a thought or an event has a profound effect on me, lines involuntary flash across my mind. I just write them as they come naturally like a cool breeze. I have to record the ideas immediately because if I don’t, I will forget, and no matter how hard I recall, those natural lines just disappear after a short while like a rainbow disappears after rain. My first complete poem, “Set Me Free” was about the freedom of a bird. Once I was sitting in front of a big cage when only the last two lines occurred in my mind. I wrote them instantly, and the next day I composed a full poem. So, it’s the idea that hovers on my mind, has a deep impact, and prods me to let it come out before I put pen to paper to release it. It’s the flight of fancy, that wants to be free and soar higher, that I call poetry. Then reading stage comes next.
After I have written a poem, I read what it is about, think of a title, and see what style it’s written in. These days, people prefer free style or blank verse to a rhyming scheme, but I like to write in different styles or meter. Words automatically rhyme as magnets form pairs. One of my poems got rejected because there was one—only one—rhyming line! I don’t do it deliberately; it comes naturally. I just copy the words from my mind to paper. I do try to use better synonyms though. Having done that, I scrutinize my poem and see if it contains any literary components such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, symbolism, or imagery. I determine whether it’s a subjective poem or an objective one. If it is relatable, then I consider in what sense the reader can realize it and what the other themes of my poem might be. I do a critical appreciation of my poem and (don’t laugh) question myself as a teacher as to what is it about and even answer myself. If there is any ambiguity, I try to omit it. I read my poem several times before writing it finally in my journal.
Sometimes I have written something and after some time passes, I read it again, and I feel that it needs some alterations. Frankly speaking, I have not made many changes to my poems except for one which I wrote in my initial stage of poetry writing. Like any novice, I used to feel elated about every piece I wrote. I only realized that it had some ‘technical’ flaws when it was rejected by an editor who had very straightforwardly pointed out the mistakes. Thanks to him I corrected it and resubmitted to a different publisher.
Many times we read something and feel as if the subject is about us or as if the author is talking to you. It is important to convey one’s message in simple words. That’s why I try to be general in theme but use concise words. Poetry is a very powerful tool. I love that one can say so much in few words. Unlike prose, I don’t have to think of the setting, plot, characters or conflict resolution. Poetry gives us everything. One just has to search for it. The beauty of it is that it offers different connotations allowing people to have different interpretations according to their moods and feelings.
Poetry has arrived for me at strange times, so I must say that it can spring to mind in times of tranquility and turmoil, both. It has no limitations. Many years back while returning home from my college, I saw a donkey’s foal galloping in a dusty ground oblivious of his miserable future. That sight was so overwhelming that I wrote poem on a donkey the next day! A decade later, my daughter wanted her feed and I was in haste but as I was preparing her bottle, a poem arrived. So I immediately saved it as soon as I was free lest I forget. Sometimes I have a subject in mind and go through a writer’s block. I just don’t know how to start. I am completely blank. There have been times when I wrote seven poems in a month and none at all in a four month period. After all, it doesn’t rain daily. It’s sporadic in my case. I simply write the title and wait until I have the automatic advent of lines.
Whenever I go through my poems, I often wonder in disbelief and say, how did I write it! I still have a long way to go, and hopefully one day, my name may be written among those of some wonderful contemporary poets.
Our columnist Nausheen Mujeeb is a poet, early years teacher and a reiki healer. Her work has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine.
Check out her poem “How Do You Remember?” also released today.