The Floaty Life of a Poet: Comments to a College Poetry Class

Written by RitaC on October 4th, 2018

You are a poet.

A poet may be described as floaty: f-l-o-a-t-y. It is a state of meandering, wandering, with no  particular aim in mind. Floaty is being lost in, but not lost with no way out.

In your Inspiration Phase, a phrase finds you. Perhaps you “hear” a string of words. You know you need to write something down. Something has prompted you. Sunlight filtering through a tree canopy pulsing like a butterfly on your half-closed lids; the reverse image of nature in a clear puddle–which is the real image? Spontaneous, mystical, anywhere, inspiration is everywhere.

When I enjoy what I am doing, I “hear” words. This happens a lot while walking, though gardening, cooking, paddle boarding, reading, watching a movie, hearing a snip of conversation, or puttering, with no particular aim, offers a place for words to flow as well.

If I have paper handy, and it’s all over my house in the form of Post-it notes and small notebooks, I write down the words. If I’m walking without paper, I keep the words in mind until I’m home. After a potential poem is hand-written, it goes on my desk. When I type it up it may go in a computer file called Poetic Ideas or it may have its own page with a title that is open to change.

The Crafting Phase begins at the keyboard. I may still be floating but the beginning of structure appears as words fly or crawl onto the computer screen.

This floatiness is a bit different: banks on either side; trees bending over it; a carping critic following in a kayak; a few rocks; a small waterfall; and perhaps some whitewater.

Writing, rewriting, over and over, is key. Don’t be afraid to revise your poem, once twice, five times, twenty times. The poem is coming to fruition as you listen to the sounds, read it aloud, and choose the words for what you want to say. Listen to feedback from trusted others, your class, your writing group, but know you are the author of your poem. Keep copies of your previous versions in the same computer file in a chronological fashion. As the poem comes near completion, sometimes just a word is changed or a punctuation. Finished means you have done all you can do with a poem for now.

Some of my poems have been revised 30, 40, 50 times. One poem, now four years old, is still not “finished.” I bring it out occasionally to work on it. Some poems were valuable exercises, but won’t find their way into one of my poetry books. Not everything I write will be nor needs to be published.

When the time comes to create a chapbook or a poetry collection manuscript, I sense it. By this time, I have a quantity of quality poems that are ready to be put in order. If I didn’t have a theme in mind when writing the manuscript, I need one now. At this point, a second set of eyes proves helpful. It is not the time for suggestions for individual poems. It is the time to find a flow in the manuscript. For some, a class or a trusted poetic friend is needed to help decide the order. For others, floatiness is a way to sequence the poems, placing them on the floor and intuitively finding a sequence. This kind of flow may include a number of branching rivers, erosion that smooths away the banks, or minor flooding.

When the time comes for submitting, do your homework. Stay open to all sources: check the Poets Market from Writers Digest; your teachers’ publishers; local and regional publications; online journals. Where is your friend published? Have your read a new online journal that resonates with you? Do the poems have a similar sensibility to yours? A proactive process saves a lot of time as you submit to publications that are more likely to accept your poetry.

Read, read, read. Before, during, and after crafting. Read all the time. My readings include: books of poetry, mystery, spirituality, nature, the environment, nutrition; magazines such as Poets and Writers, The Sun, National Geographic, AARP, my husband’s Scientific American. I read Wikipedia, Internet Movie Data Base, matchbooks, ingredients in foods I buy, online sources, The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, and Roget’s Thesaurus, to name a few.

On my kitchen table, I keep: a book of poems of Rumi, the 13th century mystic; Daily Joy, a book of photos and wisdom from National Geographic; a Dictionary of Etymology by Robert Barnhart, a thick tome. Because I love words, I want to know about them, their origins, how long they’ve been around, how they’ve changed. I want the most appropriate word for what I mean in my poetry.

For you as a busy college student or perhaps graduating soon, how can you fit in extra reading? Read on the go, snippets over a meal, or specific times for reading. Whatever works for you, do it.

I describe myself as the laziest poet I know. Sometimes, I take long breaks, especially in the summer. I write something almost every day, but it’s not always poetry. It could be a grocery or a to-do list. But when I have a self-imposed deadline, a submission deadline, a class deadline, or poems from travels, I am on fire. I journal many days a week, not necessarily every day, and have for 42 years.

What I wish for you is this: write all the time. Write poems. Write on social media. Write an email. Write a letter. Write texts using great vocabulary and fabulous grammar. Write in a group, in a circle, in a class. Cultivate writing friends. Consider what you can contribute to local, regional, even national poetic dialogue. Who would you like to read your work? Can you set up an Open Mic? Go to an Open Mic? What can you do to promote poetry?

Your truths belong not just to you but to others who are waiting to read them in your poems.

Someone very wise once said: Write like no one is watching.


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