What I love about poetry is that anything goes. Poetry is loose.There are no rigid rules or expectations. There’s no right or wrong. There are no shoulds.
Poetry is rich in images and emotion. We can let our feelings out. We can express ourselves fully and honestly because the page is fine whether we’re over-the-moon happy or red-faced angry.
Poetry also is play, and play is the language of children. So when we write poetry, it’s as though we return to our younger hearts, perhaps reconnecting to the core of who we are, maybe to our sensitive, wide-eyed souls, to our stubborn, strong-willed tendencies, to our natural silliness, and to our need to make marks and express ourselves in all sorts of wondrous ways.
All of these are the very ingredients we need when understanding ourselves. To write poetry, we must let go. And to understand ourselves, to discover who we are at our core, we need to do the same. We need to let go of judgment, and to get curious.
Poetry gives us permission to arrive any way we please, and that’s very liberating. Poetry also helps us to slow down, because it’s hard to describe something when we’re flying past it. And slowing down is how we really hear ourselves.
In the book Poemcrazy: Freeing Your Life with Words, poet and teacher Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge is filled with inspiration and features many inventive writing practices. The below exercise comes from the book and helps us discover and rediscover ourselves through the beauty of poetry.
Start by collecting words. Action words, strange words, funny-sounding words, words for different shapes and colors, words you’ve never heard of, words for bugs and trees, words from your favorite books or blogs or podcasts.
Next, jot down your responses to these questions:
- If I were a color, what color would I be?
- What shape would I be?
- If I were a movement, what movement would I be?
- What sound?
- What animal?
- What song?
- What number?
- What car?
- What piece of furniture?
- What food?
- What musical instrument?
- What place?
- What element in nature?
- What kind of tree?
- What’s something I’m afraid of?
- What’s the word hiding behind my eyes?
Then write down, I am. Use your responses to the above prompts, along with the action words you’ve collected to describe yourself. Don’t second guess yourself. Just go.
For instance, a young man wrote, “I’m the number 50, so far from the end and far from the beginning…I’m what you call life, hard to hold.” A fourth-grade girl wrote, “I’m a poem that flies through the sky” and “three dreams, porcelain and fragile in the night.”
If you get tired of working with “I am,” Wooldridge suggests starting with these other phrases: I will be; I want to be; I used to be; I let go of; I’ve forgotten; or I remember.
Keep collecting different words. And keep returning to your poem. Add to it daily or weekly or as the seasons change. Reread your poem. See what’s shifted. Continue to discover and rediscover yourself.
This post was written in honor of National Poetry Month.