A once creative writer revisits creative writings most challenging form
My names Andrew. I’m an Entrepreneurship and Strategy student in Toronto, Canada. I love writing but it’s mostly about business, leadership, and personal growth and it’s always non-fiction. The highlight of my childhood was having an essay on a childhood place I loved published in Ontario Nature Magazine. I placed fifth in a contest. Second is writing an entire manuscript for a story called “Doug is a Ghost” about a dimension-warping kid whose uncle introduces him to his powers and the evil being centered around dreams as a means of traveling (basically Pendragon but with sleeping).
Beyond that, I never did much creative writing. I loved journaling and storytelling and making people laugh. But I never made the jump to romance, action, or evoking emotions and I never believed my day to day experiences were worth anything beyond my circle of friends.
Culminating in a series of 5 poems I submitted this morning I’ve been taught creative writing for the last 4 months under the incredible Hoa Nguyen (published on Poem-A-Day). We started her Creative Writing program by working on prose, and personal essays. I finished that segment by writing a 4000-word story about my parent’s divorce, challenges they faced together, and how broader family and social events influence the decisions of descendants. I was proud of this piece, it was the best creative work I’d written in a long time because it was personal and genuine.
Poetry must be concrete, precise, and original.
Then we moved onto the final segment, poetry. We did exercises like finding other ways of saying phrases like “soft rain” versus “heavy rain” or doing abecedarian poems by writing one uncommon word for each letter of the alphabet and then writing a poem using only those words and connective tissues like they, then, to and personal pronouns (we, they, you, I). We discussed lexicons and jargon and how to use domain specific language to add feelings and meaning to stanzas. The use of Melopoeia (lyricism of words to expand meaning), Phanopoeia (casting images upon visual imagination, and Logopoeia (meaning through connecting concepts).
This was all eye-opening, and I understood suddenly why poetry took the form it did and why it was such an amazing medium of communicating our inner selves. But as much as I loved the idea if poetry, I couldn’t connect it with my own experiences. I produced poems like the one below, but they were impersonal and didn’t connect to anything internal or that mattered to me.
Saffron Scents and Snake Bites
In the bed of a stranger. Winter stands on a lonely tree. Minds ghost haunting recollections, warped, twisted forever debris.
Hardly daring to breathe. Quiet pains remind of sepia-toned stories, reeling bulky truths distorting the view.
Hand grabbing at yours. Returns tentative tense fluttering fingers. Finger rubbing tender wood whirls passion branding our rigours.
Stiff wheat stalks slice. Delights children playing at romance. Saffron scents and snake bites. Cupid’s bow in a desperate dance.
Glow of firelight hovers heavily.
This smoky lair embraces us.
Breathe me in, ignite and burn fanciful fears dance through shadows.
I was still proud of works like these or Stained Glass Saints or You Forced Your Way In. But besides being based off old experiences, too ancient to really have any rawness to them, they were from when I was younger and felt like a different person. I just couldn’t seem to translate the emotions I felt day to day into the form of poetry.
Until I found out my 17-year-old cat had cancer. It was a few days before a 15 rough poem portfolio was due. My cat Ripples had been acting strangely. Hiding in my closet and burying his head into my underwear basket. He wouldn’t leave and barely ate or went to the bathroom. I brought him to the veterinarian. The vet came back from doing a CT scan without him and proceeded to tell me his cancer could be one of two forms. That treating him would likely kill him because he was old and already weakened, and would definitely cause him pain. Either way, it was a death sentence for my childhood friend. The one who’d kept me company and been my friend when times were tougher. I love him and hearing this news crushed me.
Suffocating in a Blue Blanket
Flat, steel vets table in 4 days. Scruffy orange fur split by needles injecting winters tide. Nuzzling your head with mine cooing shh it’s okay, don’t worry.
Perked ears, eyes wide, trusting. Holding you suffocating in a blue blanket, 20 seconds survive. Heartbeats trickling away, salt staining orange fur. Fear nauseating, haunting the years you’ve imbued with life.
Guilt strangling the subconscious. Whispering subtle lies of neglect. You abandoned him. He’s better off without you.
Eyes blink shut one. last. time. Constricting you, desperate to keep your life from eking out. Hold it in. Whispering softly to your sinking ear.
Go to sleep buddy, I’m here.
To any skilled poet, I imagine my imagery is cliched. My form not very evocative and the sound of the poem is off since there isn’t an organized cadence to it. But for someone who just months before hadn’t written creatively since childhood. I’m immeasurably proud of this poem, and what it represents.
I think there are some really important points to be learned from my experiences.
- Your experiences matter. It took hearing my cat had cancer for me to realize it but our experiences matter. They shape us, and to some extent are us. Don’t let uncertainty about the value of your experiences, or you as a person stop you from doing the things you’re passionate about.
- Never take that which you love granted. If you’d have asked me if I appreciated about Ripples two weeks ago, I’d have said yes. But knowing how short his time is, I realize how negligent I’ve been and how precious every moment is with those we love. Whether it’s a beloved pet or your family be aware of how much affection, and nurturing you’re really giving them.
- Anyone can write. I used to think really powerful creative writers were a special breed. I’ve learned that it’s all about leading a life you’re proud of, and a fastidiousness about the writing craft that I respect and admire.
Regardless of your background if you’ve ever had an inclination to write, please give it a shot. You’ll find you have more inside of you than you’d imagined. And that you do have stories worth sharing.
For any aspiring poet, here are some tips I learned that can help you with your craft.
- Draw from different lexicons to add nuance.
- Melopoeia, phanopoeia, logopoeia.
- Use different frames; I, you, we, they.
- Try commands, questions, thoughts, ramblings and to aerate poems.
- The way words are organized on a page influence how we read.
- Breath influences how things sound whether spoken or read.
- Reference all the senses; visuals, smells, tastes, feelings, and sounds.
- Some amazing starter resources are; Ed Sanders — Creativity and the Fully Developed Bard, Charles Olson — Projective Verse, Joanna Valente — In Order to Write Poetry, Don’t Treat It Like Poetry, and if you want an incredible textbook on the subject, we used Nancy Pagh’s — Write Moves. It’s very thorough and covers poetry and prose writing.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into my experience learning to write poetry and that it’s inspired you to give creative writing a try whether it’s poetry or just telling stories that make people laugh.
Happy National Poetry Month 2018!
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Andrew is a design graduate student in Toronto who writes about leadership, design, and startups. Visit his blog Lead Boldly for exclusive content. Or say hey on Quora | Instagram | FaceBook | Twitter | LinkedIn.