April is National Poetry Month. When I talk with my students about poetry—writing poetry, teaching poetry—most of them shudder. They have an immense fear of poetry. It is intimidating.
Most students have horror stories about reading and writing poetry. How it makes no sense. How it is forced upon them. So, I share the words of poet, writer, and teacher Georgia Heard who jokes that she has “never heard a poet describe the origin of a poem by saying it came from an assignment about pretending to be a blade of grass blowing in the wind or from a poetry contest about health safety.” She knows the truth about being inspired to poetry: “finding where poems hide from us is part of the process of being a poet and of living our lives as poets.”
But, where do poems hide? We spend a great deal of time getting bogged down in the mistaken belief that poems should define our big emotions or ideas—what I call Billboard topics, like motherhood, marriage, or aging.
When I write poems like this they’re awful. They are voiceless and clichéd. They don’t evoke the real sensations, feelings, and connections I’m after. But, when I ground my big feelings and ideas in small moments from my real life, I can write poems that resonate for me—and for the people I want to read them.
It’s noticing the small moments that’s tricky. How do we do this? How do we find these moments and the poetry of our lives? I challenge you during National Poetry Month to find your inner poet. Take some time and look where poetry hides within your world. Take time and start to contemplate the specifics, the objects, the places, and moments where poems are hiding in your world.
I spend time thinking about my life. Stopping to find my poems. Here are some of the places where I have found that poetry hides for me:
- In walking through Hy-Vee on Opening Day and seeing a sea of blue ready for our first W of the regular season
- In the smell of melting butter over freshly baked bread and blueberry muffins
- In a package of peanut butter M&Ms
- In the sound of the lawnmowers, fighting one another but letting me know that Spring and Summer are on their way
- In my morning walks with good friends and Erin’s dog, Gus
- In walking alone, listening to my favorite true crime
- In girls’ night with Lucy where there are “no boys allowed”
- In Jack’s excitement as he tells me of how he killed the tavern owner to save himself while playing Dungeons and Dragons
- In the sound of children running through the neighborhood, Nerf guns in hand, losing bullets that I find all over the lawn
- In porch sitting with friends, watching cars fly down the street a bit too fast, but enjoying cold beer and laughter and listening to the silence
- In the joy and sheer ecstasy of watching the final double play as the Cubs clinched the pennant for the first time in 71 years
- In two dollar Pabst at The Café
- In watching my children play soccer and basketball and baseball and softball with a pure love and joy that I hope never gets lost
- In the smile on Lucy’s face when I come home from work
- In Jack’s stories and jokes as we walk to school
- In listening to baseball on the radio
- In brown paper bags of popcorn, butter soaking through as the 8-year-old me watches movies in the theatre with my parents
- In the family photo booth photos, the three and then four of us crammed in three black and white poses, covering the fridge
- In the too hot fire in our gas fireplace, reminding me that fall is on its way
- In the shoeboxes filled with trinkets from the first years of Jack’s life—hospital bands, stuffed animals, baseballs, letters, notes, and other treasures.
- In the sound of the lake lapping on the boat as we fish for crappies and hopefully trout and if we’re unlucky, catfish
- In the flat tire I get once I’ve biked 10 miles from home on a long, corn lined country road south of Macomb
- In songs from The Smiths’ “The Queen is Dead” I put on repeat when I plug in my iPod after a long day
- In the trips to haunted houses in small, Midwest towns, where the roads to get there are sometimes more frightening than the houses themselves
- In the waves of the Atlantic Ocean that move on and off my feet as I sit and read off Flagler Beach in Florida
There are so many possibilities as to where to start. Gather ideas from your life with this level of specificity and know this feeling of excitement. Spend time searching your house, your family, your life for places where poems are hiding. Go for quantity and specificity—as many things, places, occasions, and people as you can observe or recall that matter to you and that might hold the seeds of the poems in your life.
Instead of dreading poetry, find its place in your world. One of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams, was insistent that poems be grounded in everyday experiences—what we can see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. His mantra for writing poems was “Say it, no ideas but in things.” So, what are your things? Find them, and find the poems you’re living. Then put them on paper.
Rebekah Buchanan is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.