How I Write Poetry

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My most creative writing has been done when I simply let myself go of any personal — or outside — expectations. Those times when I have given myself permission to let anything that came to my mind flow forth, and let the editing come afterwards. In those cases, I would not worry about rhyming or counting syllables; I would not worry about my audience. All I cared about was the immediate feeling, capturing the present emotion and translating it into words on paper. I say translating, because so often emotion is ephemeral and effusive, vague and confusing, and manifests itself as so many butterflies in the stomach or floating imagery that it is difficult to know what words apply. That is the effect of right brain/left brain work, which I’ll address at another time. The emotion resides in the right brain, while the words that describe it are left-brained, and the transition sometimes is difficult. But with practice, it can be done. It is a still learned from journaling.

When I was in the throes of my divorce and custody battle, my emotions ran rampant from fear and anxiety, to planning tactics with the attorneys. It was not fun. My feelings were involved with my love for my son, the sadness of seeing him go through the turmoil between his parents, and I did not know how to protect him from hurt. Hard as I tried, I also didn’t know how to stop the acrimony between his father and me. Those times were ripe for journaling, and journaling I did.

At times, those journal entries lent themselves particularly well to a specific topic, and I would watch myself linger, thinking with special angst, turning this and that over in my mind. Those were the times when I was particularly successful at putting down my raw emotions with words that represented them directly, or more likely, indirectly, suggesting an emotion rather than calling it by name. For example, referring to the raging ocean as a symbol for my panic at losing my son. Once such symbolism had been found, building an allegorical story around the symbol seemed easy. The story now concerned the raging ocean, not my custody battle. Now did the ocean become that way? Was there a storm? Where was I that I encountered that raging ocean? What other attributes were present? Dark clouds, thunder, howling wind?

The same process is used to build a comical, gentle story. I have always loved cats, and had been adopted by a friendly black and white stray who was heavy with young. She took a special liking to me, and I returned the favor, and together we formed a loving bond as she purred in my lap. It was that tuxedo cat that inspired the following poem:


She sniffed the road
At dawn of day
Heavy her load,
Labor at bay.

She found a house
A farmer’s barn
‘Mid lazy cows
A patch of sun.

Labor was on,
Her breath grew dry,
The cows looked on,
A mouse ran by.

Failing no beat
She labored on,
Ignored the heat
Till her work done.

Last hurdle won
Her strength now gone
She birthed just one –
And the cows looked on.

Copyright© Yael Eylat-Tanaka (from the book “Common Bits of Life”)


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