The nearest thing to poetry I’ve penned in the last twenty-five years is a set of lyrics for the fictional band Amphibian in my first novel, DELIVER HER. So why embarrass myself by sharing my primitive efforts from a recent poetry workshop I attended?
Because to my surprise, this workshop broke down my resistance. The exercise illustrated that no matter how I define (and therefore constrict) myself as an artist, if I open my mind to a process, I can stretch my creative muscles in directions I never imagined.
(I should know this. I finally began to write fiction after decades of only writing about real things, like software and healthcare.)
Walking into the workshop led by visiting poet Carmen Alicia Murguia, I hadn’t intended to write a single line of poetry. As a member of the Jersey Shore Writers, which sponsored the event, I planned to observe from the sidelines, snap a few photos and serve cake to starving artists.
Carmen opened the workshop by announcing its theme: LOVE, inspired by the wedding she attended the day before. I groaned inwardly. It wasn’t love I objected to, but a writing prompt. Something about a pre-ordained subject paralyzes my creative juices. I leaned against the back wall, secure in my exclusion.
But then Carmen began to describe the transformative role of poetry in her life, sharing some lines she had written only that morning. Before long, her engaging manner and passion for her craft disarmed me. I slipped into an empty seat, pulling the notebook I just happened to have with me from my bag.
As a warmup, Carmen asked us to spend a few minutes doing free-flow writing, writing continuously about love, without pausing to self-edit. I wrote haltingly, worried that the sort of love that preoccupied me these days wasn’t the magical, romance novel variety that had inspired poets through the ages but rather a timeworn love for an ailing or aging partner.
How would I translate a love that doesn’t shout from the rooftops but rather murmurs words of comfort, into verse?
Carmen would soon show me.
Next, she instructed us to turn to a clean page and write the word “LOVE” at its center. Over the few minutes, we were to surround that hub with all of the things that we loved, from the simple to the sublime. Around me, participants scribbled industriously. I could do this, I thought. I relaxed into the exercise, and before long, an array of pleasures, from husband and family to crisp sheets and Shivasana, radiated from my page’s nucleus.
Maybe poetry wasn’t so painful after all!
Step 3: From that diagram, Carmen asked us to extract several elements and create a haiku. I stared at my LOVE galaxy, wondering which would suit that genre’s three-line rhythm: five syllables, seven syllables, then five again. I played with some, then others, and then suddenly, perhaps because I am on the horizon of a new writing project, I came up with this:
No plans, new page, a sunrise
The future beckons.
I set my pen down to signal I was done. When my turn came, I shared it with the group. Once everyone finished, we applauded, marveling at how much love we each had managed to cram into seventeen syllables.
To close, we would compose an ode to love. Odious, I thought to myself, far from a place at that moment where I could enthuse over or exalt love. At that moment, love and I weren’t on the best of terms. Actually, I hated love. Love was taking all, and then some, from those around me. That day, I needed to put love in its place.
Flipping back on my free-flow expression for inspiration, I managed a few lines:
When new, you are so easy, so effortless.
You fill all the spaces.
That satisfies for a time.
But then, complacent, you tease and test,
To measure bonds.
You’re tough, love.
I’m not sure how anyone will interpret that. But that’s the wonderful thing about poetry. It doesn’t have to mean anything, except to you.