How to Build a Poem
There is nothing quite like the feeling of having written a poem. To have put your frustrations, hopes, joys, and confusions down in words somehow unleashes a part of the soul inaccessible in quite the same way in any other medium.
A good way to begin is by reading the poems of others. A well-written poem can allow us to see truths otherwise not evident when the writer is able to tap into a deep well of wisdom that we right away recognize as universally true. I find inspiration in others’ poetry when it stirs me to put my own response down on paper when I recognize the part of me that the poem touched.
A great example is the late Mary Oliver’s poem Wild Geese ~
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
My first encounter with this poem was like a window opening in my heart. My life is so full of doing what I think I should be doing, in a kind of mechanical way, that the concept that all I have to do is be happy was completely foreign to me. And the idea that the world itself, nature, my surroundings, could be an agency of love, was also foreign, though I right away recognized it is true, correct, right. It is a way of knowing that you could never convince someone else of, especially a skeptic, but which you nevertheless recognize as truth. Perhaps it is only true for me, but then, why does it have to be otherwise?
Try starting this yourself. Find a favorite poem and then pen your response to it, as you may have done in call-and-answer catechisms in church, or in school classrooms answering the teacher’s questions. How does the poem affect you? What does it stir in you? Where does it take you that you have never been?