Thursday, May 18, 2017


My shelf of poetry in my library. More upstairs.

To rhyme or not to rhyme, that is the question. “Sorry about that Shakespeare.” I have been writing poetry off and on since I was a teenager – more off than on until I started college as a nontraditional student in my early forties. It was then I took my first English class since high school - English 101. The professor, Vivian Pemberton, suggested I submit an essay I’d written to ICON, the literary magazine of the Trumbull branch of Kent State University. In the essay, “Saying Goodbye,” I wrote about my son’s last hours of life the year before. It was accepted and every semester after that, I submitted not essays but poems. Most of the magazine contained poetry, a few pieces of art work and the occasional essay. Over the years I have bought books of poetry and now have four shelves filled to overflowing with books of poetry.

One of at least at least half a dozen of his poetry.

So what is poetry? Robert Frost said “Poetry is the kind of thing poets write.” It’s not that Frost couldn’t have expounded at length, it’s that poetry is not always easy to define. It eludes simple explanations.  Poetry is a form of writing that creates an emotional response, a piece of work that makes some connection with the reader. To be better understood, a poem needs to be read and studied to allow the poem to grow in your mind. It  is much like music in that respect. Some poems are as simple as a well-known tune with no deeper meaning. Others have more depth and  only develop more meaning for a reader the more often they are read and studied.

Only one of numerous children's poetry books.

When I taught third grade I not only read poetry to my students, once a month I put up a poster of a poem and we read it together. Then I asked the students to talk about the poem and what it meant. Over the month I would take time to ask students if they’d try to say the poem without looking at it. Even if they only remembered one line, I’d say that was good. By the last month of the school year there were nine poems still up. Then I’d have a contest where the students without looking at a poem, would recite it word for word and also tell who the poet was. I kept a chart and each student who managed to recite all the poems and give the names of the poets, got to choose a book of poems from new books I had. I also had my students write poetry about different subjects I was teaching, like earth worms, or takes on some of the Seuss books like “To Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street,” using the name of the street our school was on. Somewhere I still have some of their poems.

Only some of my Ohio Poetry Day booklets with my poems.
This past week I spent time writing poetry for The Ohio Poetry Day contests – about 30 different contests under one blanket. For a flat fee of $10.00, a poet can enter as many of them as they choose or were qualified to enter. A few contests are only for Ohio poets, but almost all are open to anyone in the English speaking world. Some poems come from as far away as Australia, the UK, Canada, and include many states other than Ohio. This year I entered eleven contests two days before the deadline of May 15tht. Other years I’ve entered as many as twenty contests but this year I was busier finishing my latest book. Did I ever mention I’m a terrible procrastinator?

Although writing poetry seems far different from writing prose like blogs and the mysteries I write, they do have elements in common like finding the perfect word to convey a feeling or a picture, or to adequately express an emotion. Some poems are easy to understand and relate to, especially the rhyming or humorous poems. Others take more time and reading to understand what the poet is trying to convey and just as many can be interpreted in different ways to fit the reader’s interpretation.

In my local writers group, there are five of us who write poetry. Two are awesome men who write poetry that has us all fascinated. Troy stands and recites his poetry like rap with words that can have more than one meaning. Steve writes poetry that deals with social problems in our country like Black Lives Matter and a poem entitled “Democracy’s Demise. I’ve been editing his poetry for a book he’s putting together although I’ve made very few changes. Both of these men are black men, and both are not only great poets, but have a cool sense of humor, especially Steve. My friend Laura and her sister write poetry, too. Most of the poems they write are short and rather humorous. Occasionally, others might write a poem, too.
This is just three of all her books I have.

Of course, that is where poetry varies from writing prose in which the author wants the reader to get what they’re saying and not have to reread and ponder the meaning of a sentence or paragraph. Troy’s lines need a lot of pondering, and often make us laugh. Mysteries especially need to keep the reader eagerly reading and not pausing in thought, although I’ll admit to enjoying a particularly good and evocative description of either a person or a scene in a well-written mystery especially if it’s well done. In Jane Langton’s book, Divine Inspiration, I love her simple offbeat descriptions like “After the fire Mrs. Frederick came forward with her arms full of money. ‘The best,’ she said to James Castle, ‘Get the very best.’” This is so much better than saying the very rich woman to describe her, isn’t it?” This book - as in all of Langton’s books - is filled with descriptions that are almost poetical like her description of this receptionist. “The dragon glared at him.  Little streams of smoke leaked from her reptilian jaw.” Because it has a musical theme, I found “catapulting counterpoint” and “the lingering scent of perfumed sopranos and clean-shaven tenors,” -quite delicious descriptions. In fact, it’s her descriptions and humor as well as her plots and rich characters that make Jane Langton one of my favorite mystery writers.  I’m only saddened by the fact that she hasn’t written a book in years.

Although writing a poem seems simple, after all how can writing a page or two of lines even begin to compare with a chapter of a novel a writer is working on? In truth, except for the occasional short poem that almost seems to write itself, it takes a lot of work to write a poem. I can spend as much time, and often more, on writing one poem as I can on writing a short story or chapter in my current work in process. I’m not talking about the numerous revisions and polishing, of course.  But just like my mysteries, my poetry goes through numerous revisions and rereading so that months or years later, I’m still apt to make changes here and there. I also believe writing poetry is a good discipline for the mind because the difference from prose makes it challenging. Some people work crossword puzzles or Sudoku to exercise the brain, I choose poetry.

Do you write poetry?
What other things to you use to exercise your brain?


  1. I love to read poetry, Gloria, but I gave up trying to write it long ago because I thought my poetry wasn't particularly good! I sometimes do word puzzles to get my mind more flexible. It is true, very few vowels are necessary to be able to discern a word. George Santayana and William S. Davies are two of my favorite poets, and as a child--A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Lewis Stevenson was my go-to choice.

  2. E.B. It's hard to pick a favorite poet, but I love Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson,and there were a few others I liked when I was taking poetry classes in college, but my modern day favorite poet is Billy Collins. I have two or three of his books.

  3. I don't write poetry, but I admire people who can weave such wonder with our language. I do enjoy reading poetry, but I have a feeling I don't appreciate much of what it has to offer.

  4. I adore poetry and admire those who write it. To me, writing prose feels like learning to walk, while poets are dancing on a wire high overhead.
    (sorry, I didn't sleep well last night - waiting for the caffeine to kick in!)
    I have so many favorites. Here's one from Shel Silverstein:
    If you are a dreamer, come in
    If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
    A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
    If you're a pretender, come sit by the fire
    For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
    Come in!
    Come in!

  5. My poems were published in high school and college literary magazines. Since then I’ve written very few poems. In recent years the only poetry I have written has been of the rhyming humorous variety.

    ~ Jim

  6. Frequently after work, I arrive home and the last thing I want to do is sit at my computer. I've already spent eight hours in front of a monitor. Sooooo, my excuses. But sometimes the muse whispers, and the pen is close at hand, and magic happens. I enjoy others poetry as well. I always find it very revealing when a novelists blurb will say the writers work is poetic. Those are the literary touches where vision and emotion are evoked, and appreciated, and celebrated. Go poets! Gloria, your poetry is always touching! -- Laurie


  7. KM, I can't say I enjoy all poems. There's a young man who occasionally comes to our writers group, and his poems are almost always so depressing, and I have to admit that I don't spend much time either writing or reading poems. Probably, I get my most ideas while walking in my woods or something I see that appeals to me otherwise.

    Shari, I love, love, love that poem. I used to read it to my students, too. They loved Shel
    Silverstein. I still have his books of poetry.

    Jim, sometimes I write rhyming poems, and some of them are humorous ones, too. I love reading rhyming humorous poetry.

  8. Shari, what a terrific poem.
    I like dabbling in poetry-- it strengthens ANY kind of writing I do.


  9. Thank you,Laura. I love your poetry because it almost always makes me laugh.

    Carla, I think dabbling in poetry is as good for the mind as exercising is for the body.