A few years ago, Kathy Lockwood, one of my distance learning students, was having trouble writing poems because she was moving. She had to clean out and reduce her belongings, pack things up and move on, though she and her husband weren’t exactly sure where his work would be taking them. When she called for help, I saw a metaphor in what was going on — isn’t writing poetry something like the experience of preparing and compressing while not being sure of where one is going? It feels like the right time to re-run this article that orignially appeared in 2009 with some updates. Beware prose writers–you won’t have any excuses about not being able to write poems.
All too often, as poets and writers, we think we can only write separate from our ongoing lives, when in fact it is our ongoing life that feeds us with experience and images. What follows is the outcome of realizing that when we feel desperate to write, we need to realize we can write, right from the midst of all that is happening. We are not separate from our daily life and our writing doesn’t need to be, either.
July 13, 2009
Thank you for all your help this very long semester. I am amazed at how far I have come as a reader and writer of poetry this semester. I also thank you so much for the publishing opportunities.
I used your advice about how to approach this packet when life is so hectic with this move. I finally got what has been missing for years when it comes to my writing. I have been keeping my writing separate from my life. This sounds so simple but I am telling you this has been a huge problem for me. I am constantly looking for time and ways of pushing life out of the way for my writing time instead of merging the two together. I think this comes from years ago having to get away or wait until kids went to bed for me to write uninterrupted. I believe I built a pattern of separation of the two — life and writing.
For some reason on Friday night when we talked on the phone and you told me to write about the move, the house, the things going on right now, I got it. I knew right then that I had been keeping my writing outside my lived life and that was why I struggle so to balance the two. It is funny how a person can go for years trying to get deeper into something but can’t see that they are impeding the process themselves. I now see how important it is to write the life and live the writing. The two should be one, like in a marriage. There is no room for pushing one aside so that the other can be focused on; they need to work together in order to be more fulfilling.
I have started at what was happening in my life at the time, all the craziness with empting out a house we have lived in for fifteen years, and the feelings of changes that are happening in my life. I have written a rambling essay that needs work but got my feelings and thoughts out. I hope to build poems from the essay. I will continue this path as I place the house on the market and go through the move. It was very rewarding to write about it. I know it is short but we are out of time. Lets wing it and move forward.
I am aware that I need to really buckle down next semester to finish up my thesis project and to work on keeping to my deadlines.
I also liked your title idea for my thesis – Writing Verse in the 21st Century: Why Poetry Matters to Me. My study plan reflects the details of the thesis information. If you have any changes to the plan please let me know. I think I have a better understanding of what and how to approach the project.
Again, thanks for a great semester,
What I Love About My House
When we bought the house I was looking for more space for a growing family. The house provided this with its ample 2080 square feet and four large bedrooms. Everyone had their own room and we still had a family room, living room and an office. The kitchen was small, a galley style but had freshly painted white cabinets with cute rose porcelain knobs. The counter top was a country rose colored Formica with oak trim. I thought the house was beautiful.
We moved into the home in February when snow was still building in the back yard. We weren’t sure what we would find come spring under the white blanket that fit tight against the chain link fence. The yard looked so perfect in white with two sheds painted in country red to match the house’s exterior. The yard had several birch trees with heavy limbs weighted down by the snow. It was like our own winter wonderland where I would often go late at night to pause from a long day, breathing in the joys of nature and homeownership.
When our first spring brought us yellow daffodils and lots of green surrounding the house we were so excited to work or play in the yard. The kids quickly filled the yard with friends, building friendships that are still strong fifteen years later. I planted more flower beds adding delphinium and bleeding hearts.
The seasons flowed into each other quickly those first few years, and the kids grew even faster. Our family room was filled each weekend night with the neighborhood kids, pizzas and movies. My early morning coffee was spent out on the deck listening to birds sing as the sun woke up or in the winter I sat at the bay window watching the neighborhood begin its day.
Over the years changes were made to accommodate the needs of the family. We added a larger second deck out back and as the kids became teens and were more interested in driving lessons or hanging out at the mall, I became more interested in gardening. I added whisky barrels full of annuals and made four more flower beds in the back yard. I felt like the yard was more my sanctuary than their playground. The deck was where I could be found most days and late into the night. I have even shoveled snow off the deck for me to sit outside wrapped in my coat and armed with a blanket and a good book.
We have given the house a well-deserved new look. After years of wear and tear on the carpets they have been replaced with laminate flooring in colors called Jefferson Oak and Sonoma Cherry. The walls have been painted a rejuvenating green with white colonial baseboards. The kitchen was remodeled, adding the double French doors that open onto the side deck. The new cabinets are oak and the counter top is a dark stone like Formica in a color called River Gemstone. My sink is an under countertop design, adding to the Tuscany style and feel. I love the kitchen for its colors, inviting atmosphere and its functionality. It is a smaller space in the house but the space is used very wisely.
Going through the house room to room cleaning out years of living has been like reading a book from chapter to chapter, you can see a story unfolding before your eyes. Lives have been lived in this house, children have grown up and moved on leaving behind devoted parents that are now called empty nesters.
As I cleaned out closets, I found toys like my son’s old remote control car that he and his dad played with in the street out front. My husband was ever so patient teaching him how to work the controls and retrieving the car from underneath trees and shrubs in the neighbor’s yard. Now my son drives his own truck and plays with a remote control car in front of his own house with his son.
I found a story my youngest daughter wrote in second grade about a bear and a moose becoming friends, she had named the bear after her brother and the moose after her uncle. Her words were written as they sounded to her and not always spelled correctly. I broke down and cried at how beautiful her innocence was and now she is all grown up spelling her words correctly.
I found an essay my oldest daughter wrote in seven grade on the importance of a good work ethic. I also found a poem she wrote for me for mother’s day that year. It spoke about the importance of a mother’s job and the last line is ” a mother’s heart will let you in and show you the way.” I sat down and cried again as I realized how proud I am of both of us. She has grown up into an incredible woman, built a great career and a good marriage and now has a baby of her own on the way. I am very proud of me for being the parent I am, especially since I had her while I was still just a kid at seventeen.
I have tried to reduce our lives lived for fifteen years down to fit into fifteen Rubbermaid totes. It hasn’t been easy but I have been aggressive and determined. I gave the kids their toys, baby books, shot records, some photos, and some house wares. I have kept photographs, a small amount of knitting, half my clothes, dishes for two and my writing materials. I could not part with all my books — it was torture to decide who stayed and who had to be donated. I felt like a couch saying to her players “you made the team, but you did not.” Parting with books is like parting with a member of the family. I honestly was heart-broken, I paused in the car before taking the boxes of books into donate them. I sat there saying goodbye to my “friends” and wishing them well. How did I get so obsessed with books?
I look forward to the new experiences we will have in a new house and location but wonder if they will ever be as rewarding and challenging as the experiences we have shared in this home raising a family. I am ready to pass on this house’s beneficence to the next family.
July 15, 2009
This paragraph from your letter is rich with insight:
For some reason on Friday night when we talked on the phone and you told me to write about the move, the house, the things going on right now, I got it. I knew right then that I had been keeping my writing outside my lived life and that was why I struggle so to balance the two. It is funny how a person can go for years trying to get deeper into something but can’t see that they are impeding the process themselves. I now see how important it is to write the life and live the writing. The two should be one, like in a marriage. There is no room for pushing one aside so that the other can be focused on, they need to work together in order to be more fulfilling.
Your metaphor about marrying your daily life to your life of poetry is brilliant. I’ve slightly edited your lovely, meaningful phrase this way, “There is no room for pushing one aside so that the other can be focused on; they need to work together in order to be fulfilling.”
As poets, mothers, fathers, people with jobs and bills and social commitments, we should tape this on post-it notes all over our houses and on our cars’ dashboards.
When I read your words, “I have started at what was happening in my life at the time, all the craziness with empting out a house we have lived in for fifteen years, and the feelings of changes that are happening in my life. I have written a rambling essay that needs work but got my feelings and thoughts out. I hope to build poems from the essay,” I knew you would already have some poems started in there.
Here, I thought I’d show you how going back in and using the compression of poetry on your quite musical essay sentences as you describe the house, you might begin to build a poem:
What I Love About the House I Am Moving From
Its ample 2080 square feet and four large bedrooms
meant one for each of us and still a family room, living
room, office. The kitchen was small, galley style, but the freshly
painted white cabinets with rose porcelain knobs and rose
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