Poetry Made Easy: Volume One
Many young people feel that poetry is the province of high-minded snooties, impenetrable to all but nerds, academics, bookworms, hookworms, and nerds. Others want to enjoy poetry, but find that they simply don’t “get it.” It’s time that we shattered the myths that the ivory-tower academics have built up around poetry: poetry is for anyone and everyone! It takes no special skill or training to appreciate poetry; poetry contains no complicated hidden meanings that are beyond the grasp of the average reader, and anyone can interpret any poem in a matter of seconds. Better yet, you can even write your own poetry with minimal effort!
Once you have mastered the lessons herein, you will not only understand every poem ever written, but you will unlock the potential to make your artful living in this world as a famous rich poet, yourself! In today’s lesson, we will cover two varieties of poetry that form the basis of much of the canon of poetic classics: the Nature Poem and the Love Poem.
The Nature Poem
One of the major uses of the poem is to revel in the splendor of nature! The natural world has been a rich font of inspiration to poets for over two hundred years— and why shouldn’t it be? It is man’s great gift, to apprehend the world with his God-created eyes, to appreciate all the cornucopial varieties of life and leaf! We may be inspired by the subtlety of the leaf and the plight of the burrowless badger, by the gyration of the bird or the simple clank of a heavy feather upon a stone. To look unto a great nature poem is like unto looking unto a flower, a new flower unto which the eye has never gazed unto: defamiliarized in the song of word, the flower is made new, its smell transmitted by the page into the eyehole, read by the brain as a flower, made whole and fresh by the brain. Yea, a flower is immortalized in poesy as your name shall be when you write a classic poem!
Nature poems are easy to recognize: they are those that glorify the simple pleasure of that which occurs without the interference of man: a lamb, a rainbow, a tornado! The Nature Poem addresses the deep yearning of man to return to his pastoral roots and become a shepherd, and holler elegies to his dead shepherd friends across limitless fields of gently swaying flax. They seek to make man pious to nature, as William Wordsworth here does with his famous classic, The Rainbow:
My heart leaps up when I behold
A Rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the man;
And I wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
Quite the example, and so easy to interpret! You see, this poem states three basic things: first, that William Wordsworth likes rainbows. Second, that he has liked them all his life and will like them until he is old. Third, his childlike wonderment at the beauty of nature will stay with him always, he hopes. So simple that it’s almost stupid, right? So, with this in mind, let us learn how to create a poem of our own.
The most important thing to remember when writing a Nature Poem is to use the imagery of nature to make a statement about a larger truth; in Wordsworth’s example, we can see that he was using his wonderment about rainbows to make the point that a child’s connection of nature should be an essential part of adult life. All we must do, then, to create a poem worthy of any anthology, a poem that will be discussed and interpreted for hundreds of years, is to follow the simple two-step process for writing nature poems:
1). Think of a thing to say.
2). Talk about nature while saying this thing.
For example, let’s imagine that we’d like to say that love is a fleeting and inscrutable thing. A simple concept, but the rich bounty of nature can illustrate it through glorious metaphor:
How like the sloth is love,
A thing of mossy languor;
So seldom glimpsed, and never understood,
It emerges twice yearly from the canopy
To forage and defecate.
Now you try it! Remember, you don’t really need to look up actual information about nature in an encyclopedia before writing a Nature Poem; you are free to make things up (it’s called “artistic license”).
The Love Poem
And speaking of love, the most greatest of the human endeavors of the human heart! Ah, such a thing it is, such an implacable tyrant, yet so gentle a housebird! Love’s rich tapestry of emotions has inspired the greatest men to put pen to paper, to craft their joy and pain into verse, to touch us like a lover might, but with word. Poetry has always been about love, for love is that which guides us to express our words beautifully, and what is poetry if not that?
One can hardly call the Love Poem a genre, so rich and diverse it is, for love touches all poems with its musky tendrils. Poems about love constitute so diverse an array of styles and textures that pinning it down would be impossible. Instead, we shall focus on the three great archetypical forms of Love Poetry:
A) The Shakespearian Sonnet
Do you know why Shakespeare is still so popular and widely-read today, despite the facts that he has been dead for tens of dozens of decades, and that he wrote in a primitive, crippled form of English? It is because he knew, even then, in times when life was brief and cruel, and when homely women poured buckets of steaming urine from tenement windows onto the horse-shat streets below, soaking underpassers with the reeking wastes of yet another filthy night, even in those times when men’s hands were calloused from the rough business of swordplay and rape and ribcracking peasant-work, when wild, orphaned children were wont to slit each others’ throats with sharpened mussel shells collected from the bleak shoals of England’s corpse-strewn beaches and dispose of each other in bogs, yes, even in those times when every street was awash in black blood of snaggletoothed whores who openly lifted their skirts and menstruated freely onto the wretched cobblestones of a life not worth living, even then, Shakespeare knew how to talk to a lady.
This Bard, this genius, could walk up to any lady, and despite his silly little beard, could say “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” And the lady would say, “why yes, you shall,” and then he would. While we cannot hope to duplicate his genius, mostly because the writing of sonnets involves actual rules about the number of lines and whatnot, and they have to rhyme, which is more trouble than it’s worth, we can look to the great man for inspiration. But let’s not do that right now, because Shakespeare is boring.
B) The Interlude
Aside from the sonnet, the most popular and influential variety of Love Poetry is, without question, the Interlude. Interludes occur mainly as spoken-word passages in the middle of mid-nineties R&B songs, and generally begin with the word “girl.” An archetypical example can be found in Boyz II Men’s 1992 single, End of the Road:
I’m here for you.
All those times of night when you just hurt me,
And just run out with that other fella;
Baby I knew about it, I just didn’t care;
You just don’t understand how much I love you, do you?
I’m here for you.
Even without musical accompaniment, a great Interlude can be a thrilling, affecting thing. The simplicity of their structure means that there is no confusion: the first word, “girl,” tells exactly to whom the poem poetries, and subsequent words are merely what is being said to this girl in question! All you must do, then, is to think of something you’d like to say to a girl, say the word “girl,” and then say the thing! Even if you don’t know any girls, or don’t have anything in particular that you’d like to say to them, you can simply write something that you might say to a girl, if ever you met one! Remember to add depth and richness to your poesy by implying a backstory. Take this, for example:
You know I never meant to hurt you.
If I spun you in that centrifuge too long,
You know I didn’t mean it;
I never meant to spin you like that,
I never wanted to scramble up that brain of yours, girl,
And you know that if I did, it was out of love.
Come back to me, girl,
Can’t you see this is tearing me apart?
Just get in the centrifuge one more time, girl,
You know I am serious this time,
When I say that I will not spin you to the point of injury;
One more time.
[key change, repeat chorus]
As we can see, the accessibility of the Interlude makes it a form to which anyone can relate!
C) The Familiar Love Poem
Though the romantic, puppy-love trappings of most love poetry make for a thrilling emotional rollercoaster, they certainly cannot satisfy the sophisticated and delicate tastes of the mature poet or reader! With age and experience comes a certain dulling of the senses, and aspiring poets can bolster the maturity of their work tenfold by assuming a more settled, muted, and boring voice. Love no longer holds any surprises to the Familiar Love Poet! He has experienced the highs and lows of love many times, and he now looks for meaning in the little things. Take, for example, Raymond Carver’s superlative work of Familiar genius, An Afternoon:
As he writes, without looking at the sea,
he feels the tip of his pen begin to tremble.
The tide is going out across the shingle.
But it isn't that. No,
it's because at that moment she chooses
to walk into the room without any clothes on.
Drowsy, not even sure where she is
for a moment. She waves the hair from her forehead.
Sits on the toilet with her eyes closed,
head down. Legs sprawled. He sees her
through the doorway. Maybe
she's remembering what happened that morning.
For after a time, she opens one eye and looks at him.
And sweetly smiles.
Here, Carver, the Familiar Poet, looks up from his page and finds inspiration not from the roiling see below, but from the drowsy piddling of his unabashed lady-love. He has captured a serene moment, a break from the rollercoaster of relationships, when he can contentedly watch a half-asleep woman pee and draw his poetic inspiration from the refreshing simplicity of her act.
As an aspiring poet, however, you might not have the luxury of simply waiting for such moments to happen; you might starve to death if you just sit in your room, pen in hand, waiting for a woman to walk in and pee all over the place! Instead, you should simply imagine what it must be like to love someone so much that you aren’t grossed out by their bodily functions. Allow us to demonstrate:
Beside me she sat, thin hair
graying, folds of skin obscuring that
which was once her taut, gleaming thorax,
on the sofa;
Placing a hand on the wooden arm,
she raised herself up,
only long enough
to let pass a wet, lingering
breeze, before easing
herself down calmly,
with no acknowledgment
of her graceful transgression.
So simple, and yet so elegant. The Familiar Love Poem reaches into depths uncharted by the flowery romantic language of the past by portraying the reality of love; we grow old, we lose control of our bowels, and yet we remain more devoted than ever to our most beloved. Now it’s your turn, young poet! Illustrate the depth and sophistication of your love with the simplicity of pen on page!
And thus concludes lesson one! How dearly I do hope that you will join me again, for I would love to share with you the secrets of the more advanced forms of poetry: the Sad Poem and the Nonsense Poem. Good luck, young poets! May your quills stay pointy!