Who wants publishing credits? Who wants to build a body of work that explores the deepest human emotions? Who wants to preserve the experiences that shaped you—the hilarious, heart-growing, quirky, strength-testing?
Our life experiences provide some of the most potent material—material that will fade like smoke from a snuffed candle if you wait too long to write it. My favorite way of saving the stories of my life is to take a patchwork approach and preserve them as small, contained pieces. Poems.
Because poetry is short, condensed and intense, it’s a wonderful vehicle for capturing the turning points we experience in life. It’s also great for examining small moments that don’t fit the overall arc of a memoir.
I grew up with a bipolar parent, but I don’t wish to write a whole book about it. I have, however, written a poem about one episode that encapsulated this facet of my life. The time my dad had to go off his medication for a few weeks and got his hands on a chainsaw is captured in a poem in my collection, “Just Trees.”
Some experiences I’ve captured in poetry are stories I was on the periphery of. For example, “Sixth Story” is about a suicide attempt on my college campus thwarted by a security guard who offered to lock up the woman’s hallucination in handcuffs. I heard about it from an eyewitness and found it too deliciously weird to not write.
Yet other events are sweet or quirky—my first kiss, my childhood friend who tried to leash-train her hamster, the haunted feeling I get taking a train each day through the ruins of what was once “Workshop of the World.” Not all my poetry is autobiographical—I also enjoy writing fiction in verse—but I know that the stories drawn from life were the most energizing to write and tended to spawn further creativity in me.
So many gifted writers never try their hand at poetry because they don’t know where to start, or think they have nothing important to say. But memories are a diamond-filled mine. You just have to be willing to dig. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott cites “writing about your childhood” as one of the very best ways to break through writer’s block. I couldn’t agree more.
Better yet, poetry journals abound, so it’s much easier to break in to print with a poem than just about any other genre.
Pick up a pen and start saving your life today.
Blog | Twitter
This thirty-poem collection is an eclectic mix of light and dark, playful and spiritual, lyric and narrative free verse. In an intricate dance of sound play, it explores how our perceptions shape our interactions with the world. Here child heroes emerge on playgrounds and in chicken coops, teens grapple with grief and taste first love, adults waver between isolation and engaged connection. It is a book about creative life, our capacity to wound and heal, and the unlikely places we find love, beauty, and grace.
$1.99 e-book Kindle | Nook | all other ereaders