Tuesday, June 5, 2012

i think that i can't do this

the first time i really remember studying poetry in school was in sixth grade. my teacher's husband was a "real" poet and i think that may have been one of the reasons that she took it so seriously. (although, really, she took all writing seriously. i owe her a lot.) anyway, she had us do a bunch of different exercises and experiment with a bunch of different kinds of poetry. for example, one time, she had us eavesdrop on a conversation of strangers, take a line they said, and center a poem around it. instead, i went to my sister's poetry, chose a poem, and changed it a bit to make it sound like a line could have been taken from a casual conversation. it was pretty bad. poetry has never really been my strong suit in writing. another time she gave us a poem that she had taken all of the line breaks out of. basically it looked like a giant paragraph, and we had to put it back into poem form. i'm still not sure exactly why, but i guess seeing where we thought the lines should break off told more about us than i could see.

one of my friends broke the poem up exactly like the poet had. i remember my teacher being fascinated, especially when she found out that my friend had never read or even heard of the poem before. i, on the other hand, was far less successful. my "poem" had lines so long that the only reason they didn't wrap around was because my handwriting was so tiny. (i once had to rewrite an entire paper because my teacher said the writing was too small, and he couldn't read it.) they were far too long to be considered a traditional poem. looking at the page, you might probably still confuse it with prose. looking back, i guess that's when my prosetry kind of started. my inability to break up the lines then led to my unwillingness to break up the lines now.

over the years, i took poetry a few more times in school, i went in and out of poetry phases out of school, but i am still pretty much unable to write poems. i think. which leads me to my main question: is there a difference between a poem and prose with line breaks? i recently took a piece i had written a couple of years ago and tried to make it into a traditional poem. i broke up most of it without a problem, but when i came to the last part, i just couldn't see where it could be broken. i ended up with a poem consisting of three stanzas followed by three lines of prose. but should that even be considered a poem? if i broke up the last part would it be a poem? does it matter where you put line breaks? does the writing have to be different?

i mean, i know the technical answers already because, like i said, i've studied poetry quite a few times. but i think there's something about it that i'm just missing, because my poems all scream out fake to me, and trying too hard. and the words that seemed fine in prose form look cheap and cliched in shorter lines. and my work only has rhythm when its lines can wrap around the page. and i may never be able to write a moving traditional poem, but i really want to know what i'm doing wrong. and why hitting enter a few times can completely change the mood/tone/effect of the piece.

*More Than Useless - Relient K


  1. was this mrs. davis? i don't remember doing poetry during school, except memorizing sonnets in 11th (or 12th?) grade

  2. yeah it was. i remember poetry in sixth grade because i was just so awful at it. and then we did it like every single year after that. (i originally had a whole detailed year-by-year list, but i really don't think you want to read through a laundry list of lesson plans.) it was ms. jones where we memorized a poem, and i kinda remember testing joharah on hers so i wanna say it was eleventh. but yeah, we really did a lot of poetry.

  3. anonymous hippopotamusJune 5, 2012 at 10:22 PM

    Mrs. O'Leary for 7th grade also had a poetry part of the year...i remember we had to make our own poetry book with different types of poetry.

  4. yeah in my deleted list of poetry classes through the ages, i mentioned seventh grade poetry in which we made a poetry book. on pink construction paper. and we had to do one visual poem. i did one about rain and shaped it into a raindrop like an uncreative loser. actually, i think two of my poems were about rain...