What does the concept of poetry call to mind? Some may think of confusing lines of rhyming nonsense that they are forced to squeeze meaning out of for an A in English. Maybe poetry is some vaguely intriguing activity that others think is only for really smart people with lots of degrees.
In reality, poetry is simply a way to express oneself through words and creative ideas. This word is filled with such variety of cultures and experiences and there are similarly diverse types of poetry. Some poetry rhymes, some is written to be performed, some is spoken over music or even shouted from the rooftops in protest or celebration.
April is national poetry month. One way to celebrate this is to participate in “30/30,” where participants write a poem every day. This is a big challenge even for people who consider themselves poets already so maybe this poetry month you could just try writing once to see how it feels.
Although some people choose to share what they write, the most genuine and brilliant poems can come from writing for yourself. This can also help combat the inner critic that tries to slow your pen or stop the creative flow.
Writing is a great way to process emotions. When dealing with something that is weighing you down, sometimes even getting your thoughts on a page can make the situation seem easier to handle. It also can be very empowering to write about your identity and about what that identity means in the context of your environment. It’s amazing how often we feel that we are alone in thoughts and experiences and much later find another person who feels just as weird or pressured or desperate for someone to understand.
Poetry can absolutely be revolutionary. Throughout history many poets have been shut down and censored for having ideas that pushed the limits of the status quo. As recent as the 1950s, a bookstore owner was arrested for selling Allen Ginsberg’s book “Howl and Other Poems” because it was considered too obscene. Ginsberg’s graphic descriptions of drug use, sex and homosexuality shocked the country and, when the court case was dismissed, added a new standard for what was considered art. He wrote about what he knew and what he felt and represented his whole truth without shame.
Anyone can use their voice to inspire change so if you are new to writing, pick something that you know all about. Any experience will do. Poems can be silly and ridiculous, or deep and dark and sad, or angry rants or love stories. Any experience however small could be the start of a poem.
Writing poetry is all about making connections between concepts that normally wouldn’t go together to express an idea. For anyone who wants to try it out and see where it takes them, here are some good places to start.
Try comparing emotions and experiences to unrelated ideas. This may sound intimidating, but all it means is thinking of something that expresses how something feels. Instead of saying, “I feel tired,” think of something big, like the ocean, and say you feel an ocean of exhaustion.
Personify feelings you have: ask yourself questions such as “What does your fear look like? What clothes does it wear, what does it think about, how does it spend its time?”
Tell the story of where you’re from. Who were your ancestors, what small details make up your childhood memories, what makes you different from everyone else?
Pick someone in your life who has done you wrong and write an apology letter to yourself from their perspective.
Write a love letter to your body or a body part.
Write a breakup letter addressed to a bad habit.
Other good ways to get inspired are to hear other poets and see what emotions they call to mind. YouTube is full of spoken word from poets around the world.
Remember that any poet is just another human expressing their thoughts and that you can do the same. It doesn’t have to be the pinnacle of brilliance, but no matter what is produced you are a poet the second you let your thoughts out onto a page.