Go Poem Crazy in April, National Poetry Month

Poetry month

Go Poem Crazy in April, National Poetry Month
| Published April 16, 2014 |

By Kristy Webster
Thursday Review contributor

April gets me giddy. It isn’t just because of the tulips, the way they hold conversations with color, or the Cadbury eggs or the reemergence of pastels both in nature and the grocery aisles.  It is mostly because April puts poetry in the spotlight and she reveres her absolute necessity.

I became aware of National Poetry Month during my time in Americorps while working as a reading tutor.  To celebrate, we held a poetry reading at an elementary school and set up the library as a Parisian café. Ever since then, the month of April has reminded me to slow down and pay attention, to look and listen for poetry.

So often as writers, as poets, we make excuses for not writing.  We blame our procrastination on a fickle muse, we say we just aren’t inspired.  I have done it, but now that I’ve read Poemcrazy, I’m going to have a much harder time using that excuse. Poemcrazy is an utterly delightful, inspiring, and whimsical book on the craft of poem making.  The subtitle of Susan G. Wooldridge’s book is “Freeing your life with words,” and that’s exactly what the writing practices in this book will move you to do.

That muse we blame has never abandoned us, or for that matter, only visited us on occasion. The muse IS us, that is, it is our interpretation of every sensation, time, and place we experience. She writes:

“I sometimes think poems come from electricity in the air, a hum inside, impulses we can feel in our body. When I sense an electrical charge around a person, event or place, I know there’s a poem in it, waiting for words. Poems are often about something so important to us we can feel the need to write as a physical urge.” Pg. 88

We are almost always knee deep in inspiration; we’re just not always paying attention. Even when we do feel a poem stirring, we don’t always put the pen to the paper, we don’t always trust that what we have to say is worthy of being written. That inner critic can wreak havoc on a poet’s instinct. We often feel if we are going to invest in writing, every word we scribble down must somehow own its place on the page. But I found the following quote to be very liberating:

“I feel safe because poems take me out to a place out of normal time and thought, dipping me below the surface to where we all meet. And there, as if we’re in silent collusion, it’s safe to say whatever we want. Writing poems, we’re tapping the part of our consciousness that knows we’re safe.”

Sometimes it is not just the inner critic that causes us to shut down, sometimes it’s the criticism of others, even just fearing a criticism that hasn’t even happened yet! Of this Susan also writes an encouraging thought:

“And now I remember. Worrying about what people think of me and my poems always gets me in trouble. I get lost “out there.” It’s the process of writing poems that helps me bring my heart back home. It puts me in touch with the ocean inside I can never lose, where poems come from and where I connect with me.”

Susan writes at length about her experiences teaching poetry to others, especially those of marginalized populations. While it would be ideal to take a workshop from this very gifted writer and teacher, the exercises she shares in Poemcrazy are a great starting point for poets new and old, amateurs and old hands. My favorite practice is found in Chapter 39. The exercise at the end of this chapter is a series of questions: Who were you in my dream? What did you hear? What were you wearing? What were you eating?

This is the poem I wrote based on the prompts:

The Electric Yes

Who were you

in my dream but Sky,

a collapsing invitation to

a slow, pink world

You wore the dark castles

of my shoulders, ate the

loosened ladders of

my ribs, wanted

The empty white howl

but I sang out a red scream

horizon, traced the foothills

of your navel, I found where

You hid berries, sweet

jewels soaked in blue

inside your collar

and dared

Me, your solstice other,

your crimson capture to

pray inside a tender

devil’s dawn.

Susan writes that, “Writing a poem is a form of listening, helping me discover what’s wrong or frightening in my world as well as what delights me.” Her stories about teaching along with many of her ingenious prompts and writing practices give poets a focus, a spark, a nucleus to start from.

I highly recommend this book and believe it will strike a match for writers who feel lost in the dark.