How to Write Poems the Hard Way

We had a prompt on the board at work this week. It was the old “write a six word story/memoir” like Hemingway’s “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” This kind of prompt is kind of fun for poet types like myself who enjoy a challenge. 

I came up with two: “APA is my life, until 9” (that makes more sense if you’ve ever worked with freshmen college students; 9 is when I go home) and “It is easy to ruin a poem,” which needs no explanation. I’ve been trying to write a new poem for my writing group.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a whole poem from scratch. And by a while, I mean possibly a year, maybe even  nearing on two. I’ve done some revising, but every time I think about finding a topic to write I think about my memoir and shut down.

When I was a middle-twenty-something grad student, I got tired of writing poems from my personal experience, or from an invented personal experience. I tried to write impersonal poems, and largely failed.

Yesterday at work I sat down (on my break!) to write a poem. There was no way I was going to write a personal poem. I got a couple okay lines based on science and my current paper (which is weird, but that’s another story). 

It turns out that it’s easy to write impersonal poems when the very idea of writing about yourself, again, after 3 years of writing a memoir, makes you want to projectile vomit. Who knew?

What have you always wanted to write about?


4 responses to “How to Write Poems the Hard Way

  1. Exactly what I’m writing about. Scary though it is.

    Yesterday I received a text message from my ex sister-in-law. She said she heard I was writing a book and her guess was “it’s children’s literature, right?” I said, no, it’s a memoir. She wrote back, “I’m shocked!”

    Well, she’ll really be shocked if she finds out she’s in it. Lord. It took me all day to settle down.

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