Piecing Together a Poem

The blank page is the most intimidating part of writing, and most of the time I don’t know where I’m going with a poem before I start it. It’s always been difficult for me to start writing a poem. Usually, I’ll use phrases or lines I’ve magpied-together and go from there, but this proves to be difficult when writing on one subject or even person. I tend to string together these pieces and produce something much different than what I set out to do. While this still works as part of my writing process, I was wondering if anyone had any other suggestions or examples of how they begin their poems. It could be the style of how you begin your poems, such as looking at a picture or image to inspire your words, or listening to certain songs, etc.

While the exercises certainly work for me in terms of writing a poem of that style, I can never get started on my own. I sometimes look up different exercised online, but doing so makes me feel as if I’m cheating.

Nicky Beer’s “Post-Mortem”


To me, you have bequeathed
a half-dissolved
apple, a spider,
and three crescents
of your fingernails.

A large Y of black stitches
has split your trunk into thirds—
a child’s rendition
of a bird migrating
towards your feet.

The arc of the scar
on your right calf
reminds me of a hooked trout
I once saw leaping
from the surge of a stream,

a curve of light shaped
by the moment between life
and the infinite space
just above it.

Smoke-browned fish on a white plate,
dawn-grey body on a silver table—
we do not like to linger
on how the dead may still nourish us.

Later, I will tell your family
what no one ever knew,
but you may have suspected:

you had two exquisite,
plum-colored kidneys,
lustrous and faultless
as the surface of a yolk.

Nicky Beer


Before I took Intro to Creative Writing my first semester here at Geneseo, I had no opinion about poetry, except that it “wasn’t for me.” All of the poems I had been introduced to until that point were so flowery, so dolled up with poet-y language that, at the time, seemed out of date and out of touch with humanity in the now. “I guess I like Robert Frost,” I’d say when asked about poets and poetry (which is still true, I really do love Frost), mostly because I didn’t know what to say, and I’d read some Frost before. I’d never read any contemporary poetry—I’d never explored a poem beyond its rhythm and rhyme, its metaphors and similes. However, when introduced to Beer’s “Post-Mortem,” along with a lot of new perspective about what poetry could be, I realized maybe poetry was “for me,” after all. Maybe poetry is for all of us. The simplicity in Beer’s language, the domesticity and everyday-ness of the images—“a child’s rendition of a bird in flight,” “a hooked trout I once saw leaping from the surge of a stream,” “the surface of a yolk,”—grounded me, and helped me understand that poetry, I think, is something that is accessible to everyone. You don’t need to be a writer, a reader, someone who can profess about the significance of Keats’ Eremite (not a jab at Frost or Keats—I love that poem and that allusion) to access and even, dare I say, understand poetry. This isn’t to say this single poem made me love poetry. I don’t wholly love poetry. Sometimes I love poetry so much that I just stare at the page and cry. Sometimes I hate it so much that it actually makes me physically ill—nausea, dizziness, the works. But for so many reasons, this poem remains one of my absolute favorites. Has anyone else experienced a poem or a moment like this? I consider myself sort of a “late bloomer” when it comes to poetry, did anyone else have a similar delayed experience? Also, what do you think of “Post-Mortem”?

I’ve got a blank space, baby: White space?

Our in-class discussion today on white space was super helpful to me in terms of interpreting white space, but I feel like I still have a long way to go in the way of actually utilizing it myself in a way that feels genuine.  I’m very interested in it, and I love the way it can function in a piece.  A few months ago, I stumbled on this poem by Eugenia Leigh, and it stuck with me:


How carelessly God hummed us whole
with such pronounced
holes                for lungs.

How hollow                 we are. How

anonymous—six billion
in a faraway warehouse.

I guess at this point I’m very interested in how white space can be used to denote physical space or a physical feeling, like it does in this one.  I absolutely love how the space functions in this poem in such a way that I have a physical reaction: I feel myself breathing, but I am also aware of the effort it takes for me to draw breath, somehow. I feel the holes in my chest.  One of my favorite things about poetry is its ability to elicit that physicality in the reader, and that’s something I really want to look into playing with.

That being said, white space is such a wonderfully flexible element, and I’m interested in how other people like to see it used/how others use it.  I know we did a brainstorm in class, but I’m wondering how everybody else views white space and how you go about incorporating it? I know what I like when I see it, but I feel like I struggle in incorporating it successfully myself.

What’s your image creating process?

For a while now, I’ve been feeling like my writing process gets in the way of the time I actually spend writing.  This is becoming problematic to the point at which I’m having a lot of trouble sitting down and writing a poem.  I think it’s because I’m so anxious to come up with images right away that excite me and inspire me, when really the ideology of “first thought, worst thought” usually applies.  So I’ll write down a bunch of random images (usually just words describing things I see that I find interesting): table, banner, swing, flower–none of which typically lead to me becoming next Rebecca Lindenberg.  Then I’ll brainstorm instructions/directions, except not explicit ones, more just the intros to them: “let me,” “go to,” etc.  Still not inspired.  These usually end up covering the top half of a page, not in any particular organization but across, diagonal, big, small, you name it.  Crappy images all over this piece of looseleaf paper.  And somehow if I do this for a long enough time–have enough bad ideas, look at enough domestic objects, make enough combinations of two words–I come up with a poem.

I am going to go out on a limb and assume that my method of writing is not your method of writing (it happens with critical analysis papers as well & I end up surrounded with six pages of paper, each with one important sentence on them.)  For a senior English major, it’s pretty embarrassing the time it takes me to come up with a poem/paper topic I can expand on, and saying that my process is all over the place & disorganized is an understatement.  So I guess what I’m wondering is how do you all start poems?  Any advice about delving in somewhere, or finding a topic that you can completely flush out in a technical, imagized poem?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


From Stage to Page (and back again?)

I started doing competitive slam poetry at the age of 14. I didn’t have any actual poetry background, as teachers in school just told us to write poetry without explaining anything about craft or what makes a poem effective. I learned through watching others slam that all it took was a compelling subject (usually with some controversial aspect involved), vivid imagery, and some passion to weave together a piece. Add the “poet stance” (always rocking forward to your tiptoes), a cadence that could be identified as your own, and some deliberately placed dramatic choreography, and people were telling me that I was a promising poet. I won some local competitions, slammed in a regional bout where I beat people from big city teams like Baltimore and D.C, and found myself part of Delaware’s 6-person team in the quarterfinal rounds at Brave New Voices 2011, performing in venues all over Oakland and San Francisco and included in an HBO documentary. While the slam poetry scene diminished in my area as I finished up the rest of high school, one of my few goals for college was to compete (and make a splash) at CUPSI.

Fast-forward to today, and I haven’t performed in 6 months and haven’t written a slam piece I’m actually proud of in over a year. I realized that I was too obsessed with “being good” and winning. I started writing certain things into my poetry just because I knew they would get points (talk about domestic or sexual abuse, use ribcages, hang yourself from a noose, get emotional on stage) instead of writing poetry for myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love acting, but poets are supposed to reveal their true selves, coaches always told me to be vulnerable on stage. I realized that I was only pretending to do these things, shying away from topics that actually affected me in the name of securing 10s and high placements. I decided to take a break from slam to reevaluate why I was actually writing. When I took creative writing here at Geneseo and entered the world of poetry in an academic setting, I started looking at everything differently. At first it was really hard for me to make the transition back to page poetry from slam. In slam, as long as what you’re doing evokes feeling, nobody cares where your line (or rhythm/cadence) breaks are or whether you rely on abstractions. Seeing page poetry from an academic setting has just made me that much more critical of slam. I want to return to the world of slam competitions, I met some of the most intelligent, diverse, and accepting people through slam communities, but sometimes I feel like I’m so critical and jaded at this point, that I don’t know if I ever can return to that community that grew me.

Does anyone else have trouble taking slam seriously after focusing on the nuances of page poetry? Any advice for reconciling the two?

My relationship with poetry

I’ve always struggled to take poetry too seriously. Poetry has always been something that I’ve derived great joy from reading and writing but also despised. The poet has always been a very enigmatic figure to me and I’ve toiled over understanding my true viewpoint on the topic. (Are poets writers? Or moreso artists?) I write poetry as an emotional expression and as an art form…so sometimes it is hard for me to apply literary criticism in the same vein that I would an essay. Some of the time, in a poem, the poet decides to place certain words places because they have nice aesthetic, not necessarily for any “deeper meaning”. So then it becomes hard for me to do poem analysis because I’m not sure how much I should be “reading into” the poem. I’m sure this is something I have to sit and think about more and hopefully come to a definitive answer further on down the road.

My Relationship with the Ampersand

Hey fellow poets, I have a question for you all on the usage of the ampersand (&) in poetry. I like the thing well enough in handwriting, because it’s fun to make those funny flowing loops. When typing, however, my soul becomes conflicted. So my question is this: why use the ampersand and not use the word “and”? For my last poem, I caught myself just about to use it before I started questioning it and my whole poetic life. What is its purpose beyond abbreviation — or is abbreviation the ampersand’s only purpose? Does the symbol exist to create some aesthetic variety on the page? I’ve noticed many of you using it, so what’s your personal reasoning for “&” over “and” or vice versa?