Part 1 of this series focused on the idea of practice. That writing poems can be a regular, daily routine, and that a regular practice of editing, repeatedly, is how to nurture your words into poems. Poems rarely come like gifts in the mail. They take work and craft and practice.
I started part one imagining a page of text to be crafted. Let’s start part 2 facing a blank page, and a very common problem: where do the words come from? Because poems are words. I once thought poems were ideas and images and feelings, but poems are words. And sometimes they flow like a stream down a slope, and then sometimes the words don’t flow at all. Let’s discuss ways to help in that scenario. How to coax words?
The I Remember Poem
I use exercises and some other ways to trick myself into putting words down on paper. A favorite is the I Remember Poem. If you are a storyteller, like me, you’ll love this. It’s easy, think of any memory. Something has come to you recently, some memory that struck you for some reason. Use it. Begin by writing, I remember and describe the image or feeling, whatever it is that first strikes you. The smell maybe. Repeat this with a second line, also beginning, I remember. Keep doing this until you have a few lines, at least 4 or 5, and then go back and read them. Remember what we discussed about reading your poem aloud in part 1. Notice the rhythm that comes from the repetition of those words, I remember. Feel how that rhythm interacts with the rest of the line you followed it with.
Focus on specific imagery, colors, sounds. You want to fully flesh out the universe of this memory.
Are your lines all images? Are they all feelings? Are they incorporating all of your available senses? Are they a mix of all? Think about whether those questions matter to you and your experience of this would-be poem.
You might be tempted to stop and go back, and rewrite some of these lines. Fixing a typo, or maybe changing a few words. Resist this urge, stay on the task of writing new lines, beginning with the words, I remember. Spend some time coming up with new lines until you feel you’ve exhausted your well. This might take a few minutes, or a few hours. It might take more than one day of practice. Keep writing lines until you feel you’ve put them all down.
At this point you should have a number of lines, all of a certain feel, because they all start with the same opening phrase, I remember, and because you are on the topic of a particular memory. This might be the grist for a new poem to start editing now; this might be a prompt just to get you in the zone to write something else. This might be therapy. Either way, you’ve been writing, and that’s good. I’ve found many good uses for the I Remember Poem, and it’s one of my favorite exercises, and I encourage you to break it out the next time you are staring at a blank page.