Catching Up with Poetry

Grass stood in patches and small tufts, like the patchy beard of the Earth. As a fourth grader, I sat and fidgeted, but soon the small movements of insects caught my attention, and I imagined them a story. We’d been instructed to sit outside and observe nature, taking mental notes to serve as inspiration for a poem. Mine was inspired by ants, and dealt with a horrible mishap during a picnic in which a grape smashed and killed a particularly bold ant that had snuck onto the blanket to steal some food. With it came a crayon drawing depicting the event, the ants legs frayed outward from underneath the fruity boulder. My mother liked it so much that she’s kept it to this day in her small treasure box of memories that’s stored beneath our living room couch.

In seventh grade, I left a girl for someone new, effectively breaking her heart in the process. But due to the tumultuous state of middle school romances, I soon wanted her back. To apologize and win her heart, I penned a long sappy note full of regret. I can still see it scribbled in ink, folded neatly into a scare, with her name scrawled on the top. But before I gave it to her I had a (girl) friend of mine read it. She held it to her chest after she finished and said, “You should be a poet.” And if there’s one thing I know for certain it’s that seventh grade girls are experts on what makes excellent poetry. With my ego inflated, I passed the note off to the broken hearted girl, we made amends, and had a very solid, three-month long middle school romance. It was magical.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was after this incident that I realized writing poetry was something I could do with a decent degree of success. Being the Casanova that I was, I wrote them for girls, to woo them into my loving arms. I also discovered that poems were great gifts to my mom (and quite a bit cheaper than say a box of chocolates), and, being the sweetheart and gentleman that I clearly was, I would whip them up for her for Mother’s Day or her birthday. I bought notebooks for seventy cents and doodled on the covers and the margins while writing out verses. Lyrics to songs became increasingly influential and choice phrases from my favorites artists appeared in my own writing, wholly unaware that plagiarism was a thing.

By the time I got into high school my angst had firmly grasped my heart, and I transitioned from sappy stanzas to the dark and, for lack of a better word, the goddamn ridiculous. I wrote a lot about chains, and being bound, not being able to be free, misunderstanding, smoke and ashes and fire. I’d made a visual aid for my poems in fourth grade, and this time my visual aid was my style. I had black fingernails and clothes. My hair was spiked and my pants baggy and long, draping over my shoes like curtains. I wore chains around my neck and wrists. To think of it now is quite embarrassing. If I could go back and find those old poems, I’d love to read them. And then immediately burn them. Regardless of how terrible I was, my creative writing teacher embraced the philosophy of positive reinforcement, and so I trudged on with my stylistic choices. “You have a natural poetic sense,” he wrote, but which I now translate to mean, “Keep trying buddy.”

College showed me that I wasn’t as great as I thought I was. I showed up to my poetry class with my first poem thinking I was going to blow their minds out of orbit. But the moment another read their piece, I realized how much of poltroon I’d been. I had to change everything I thought I knew about writing. I learned the villanelle, the sonnet, experimented with haikus and tried to better incorporate meter, assonance, and consonance. It was during this era that I produced poems much closer in style to their current incarnations.

Nowadays, I’m writing perhaps one or two poems per month. My process is quite slow considering I do a free write, then I let it sit for a few weeks–sometimes months–before coming back to it to do line breaks and revisions. In my three years in Korea, I’ve completed two poems I would consider worthy of being read. I’ve got another eight more still in revision and another four more that are nothing more than a single sentence. The reason all of this has been on my mind is because April is National Poetry Month and right now National Poetry Writing Month is happening, but I’m nothing more than a bystander. My former poetry professor has been posting his stuff to Facebook, but I’ve not been able to motivate myself enough to do it.

But perhaps “motivate” isn’t the right word. I’m strange in that I have to feel a poem. If I don’t feel it, I can’t write it. There are times where I’ll sit with an open notebook and, after fifteen minutes, have written nothing. I also discovered NaPoWriMo a bit late in the game and felt as though it was silly to try and catch up this April. They require one poem a day, but perhaps I could squeeze out twenty or so in this next week. Perhaps I can think back to the good old days, when all I needed was to see an anthill or the prospect of holding a girl’s hand to get my muse to sing. Or shoot, I could whip out a dozen haikus in no time. For example, this could be a haiku if the line breaks were altered. With two finished, I feel like I’m already beginning to catch up. So I’ll end with a third, seventeen syllables and now I’m finished.


Steven E. Athay is an aspiring story designer and connoisseur of all things awesome. Follow him on Twitter at @steveneathay, or read his blog Afflatus.
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