3 Questions and a Poem–in which one of my favorite poets is interviewed and shares a poem.
What do you consider the three most important elements of a poem?
Whether I’m writing a poem or reading a poem, I’m most interested in lyrical language, the use of specific concrete imagery, and a move toward something larger.
As a child, I was drawn to the magic of language, how words sound individually, and how when words are put together they create a new music. This musical quality still draws me in today, and is one of the reasons I believe so strongly in reading aloud. I love tasting delicious language, feeling it in my mouth, and it’s one of the ways when I’m drafting that I can tell if something is working or not.
I learned as a developing poet that power lies in things, those specific images, and that a simple word may convey more powerfully than a complex word. We understand the world through objects in a context (spoon on a table, water riffling over rocks, book left open on desk) and through those common objects we can talk about greater things, deeper emotions, universal themes.
A poem that lasts, one that touches readers, uses that lyrical language and powerful imagery to move beyond the simple object, the common scene, toward something greater. Meaning can be layered and mysterious, at times, allowing the reader to complete the poem by relating it to their own experiences. The writer must learn when to hold, draw back, give enough, but not too much and allow the reader to connect to something beyond and below the actual words on the page.
As poets, we are always learning and striving to do these things well and to recognize when others manage them. No poem is ever done. Each read and reread changes it. As the writer is always changing, so is the reader, too.
What’s your best advice for writing poetry?
Read poetry. Lots. Find your teachers on the page and hear their words come alive in your voice as you read aloud. And perhaps keep a notebook of lines or stanzas that moved you deeply, that made you say, “Wow! I want to do that.” Also, copy out either by hand or on a computer poems that you admire. Feel the poet’s words in your hands as you write or type. Would you end the line in the same place? Why do you think they chose that break? That word? That image? Obviously, don’t kill the poem by taking it apart too fiercely, but enough that you begin to feel their rhythms inside your body. Perhaps, take a short poem you admire and use it as a form: noun for noun, verb for verb, adjective for adjective, or use the same number of syllables as the poet used in each line.
Also, when writing my own poetry, I find that I keep working on the idea, the lines, the wording, paring and adding and playing until at some point the poem finds what it wants to be, how it wants to look on the page. I find it to be a magical process. A poem that may have started out as free verse suddenly wants some rhymes added. A poem that had short lines, suddenly moves toward longer lines and wants six stanzas.
Play and be patient. Some poems take not days, but years. And some never find their way as a whole, but maybe this one line or phrase will be just right in another poem.
What’s the one poem that everyone should read today?
I’ve recently purchased several new poetry books and am slowly, deliciously reading my way through. But the one I’m most in love with currently is by my former mentor, Laure-Anne Bosselaar—Lately: New & Selected Poems. Her first poem in the book, which is noted as the Foreword to the collection is titled, The Worlds in this World. It bridges the personal with the universal with beautiful language and images and makes me want to read it again and again. Truly any day spent with the poetry of this author is time well spent.
& a POEM
Mistaken Eagles A beat-up blue dump truck spreads cinders over snow and ice on my road, though it is not my road. Yet, in the thirty-plus years of living here, I’ve growled at unfamiliar vehicles, “Who is that driving down my road?” like a troll scaring off trembling billy goats… Friends remark on my Beatrix Potter life, but even Beatrix took time to find her true animal way. I love any woman who finds the path, no matter how long it takes. In morning meditation, Tara Brach reminded me of original goodness. How I adore that. Original. Goodness. My family, Billy Graham on TV crusade, preached original sin. Born of woman all were lost. Because of some snake, an apple, a short-ribbed man? Eve delighted in all she touched and smelled, saw and heard. Though all was provided, she wanted more. She wanted to know the world inside her. Is it wrong to want more? Even if you have everything? My ex made fun of me for being excited by weather. He thought, mistakenly, that I was fearful or timid. No, I was born in tornado country. I’m not naïve about mother nature, the strength of feminine will.
About the Author
Cathy Cultice Lentes is a poet, essayist, and children’s writer. She lives and writes in Southeast Ohio. You can learn more about her and her writing at www.cathyculticelentes.com
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