Don't let anyone tell you what makes a poem. Like a good meal, you know when you taste it. If I were talking to a farmer friend of mine and he said, "Ya know Fitz, so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens," I might simply respond, "Yep, good thing you have a red wheelbarrow!" But, if I saw these same words framed in a poetic structure, I would be astonished at the power of the words:
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
I read this poem by William Carlos Williams, and I don't think of it as a tribute to wheelbarrows as much as it makes me wonder about the importance of importance and the dependence and interdependence of our lives, and so my mind drifts into the world of poetry that somehow transcends and reinvigorates common thought. I now wonder why three simple images--none of which are all that interesting--prefaced by the simple statement, somehow become transformed into something powerful when written as a poem.
Sometimes a poem transforms a simple story into a powerful emotional and intellectual experience. The poem "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening," by Robert Frost, is one such poem. The story of the poem is not interesting in the slightest: A guy is driving his horse drawn wagon or sleigh through the woods on a snowy night, and he stops for a bit but then realizes he has promises to keep--and many miles left on his journey, and so he needs to get going again; however, Frost tells this story as a highly structured poem, and it becomes vivid, evocative, and haunting enough to become one of the most admired poems in the English language--and certainly one of my favorite poems:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I don't need anyone to analyze or tell me why I love this poem: I simply do! All I really know is that the older I get, the more this poem speaks to me, and so I keep returning to this poem as if it is an actual physical place that I need and want to revisit time and time again. I don't think about the poem; I just let it make me think....
For all the poems I love, there are hundreds that I have read and discarded because they did not speak to me in a powerful way, or move me, or make me want to return to their words. This does not mean they are bad poems. It probably means I was not ready for them, or I was lazy when I read them because reading poetry is an exercise, not an amusement. By being attentive when you read a poem, you become a better reader, a deeper thinker, and a better writer. You should read poetry like you are flying a plane for the first time, or climbing a precarious tree on a windy day; if you lose your concentration, you lose--you lose the poem!
For this week's writing prompt, share a poem with us that you like and think is a really good poem. If you can't think of any poems, ask your parents or grandparents what their favorite poems are and see if those poems "speak" to you, too. Copy the poem (or poems if you wish) into your blog and write a paragraph or two about who wrote the poem, how you found the poem, and why you like the poem. If you want to go one step further, share with us a poem that you wrote.
And have a great week!