There’s a Poem in That

Picture a tea kettle. It’s boiling, but not yet whistling. Steam tumbling from the spout and fogging up the hood of the stove.


There’s a poem in that.


I’m laughing at myself, because it’s something I say nearly every day to fellow poets. “You should write a poem about it!” And, actually, I have neglected to take my own advice.

Our class this week reminded me that even though I find them mundane or of little significance to my writing, the little things that make up my everyday experience are sometimes the hidden greatest pockets of inspiration.

A common piece of advice flows in and out of almost all of the writing classrooms I have been a part of: write what you know. Suddenly, I’m looking at this in a different light. I have always thought of this phrase as relating to what interests you, what experiences you have had, what background you come from. The truth is, though, it can be both that definition and this new one I’m starting to really enjoy. I know my tea kettle really well. Down to the scratches on the side from packaging it up in a cardboard box to transition from a dorm to an apartment. How the white measurements have rubbed off up to the 1.0 liter mark and how after I empty it, the metal frame makes a clicking sound as it cools. I use this kettle every day. I’m sure it holds a poem for me, or for you.

Right now, I’d like to leave you with two questions. The first: how do you interpret the “write what you know” phrase? The second: what is some advice you give to other writers that you would want to give also to yourself?

2 Replies to “There’s a Poem in That”

  1. I think a poem about the tea kettle could be really interesting! I really like what you discuss about how even little things that seem boring making interesting poems. Even though a tea kettle seems like a boring object, I think there can be a lot of significance attached to objects like that. For instance, the other day I saw cleaning supplies in a store that instantly made me think of my summer job, because they were the exact brand that we’d use to clean at my job. So obviously it made me think of working, but it also made me think about of going home after work and playing games with my little sisters, and of inviting over my high school friends I hadn’t seen in months. And so even though it was a very boring object, I couldn’t help but connect it to all of my memories from last summer, and not even just memories from work. So I agree with you, just because it’s a mundane object doesn’t mean it isn’t important, or can’t make an interesting poem.

  2. Rachel,

    I’m laughing because I do this all the time, mostly when joking with friends. The words, “I’m going to write a poem about that/you” have become sort of a quasi-sarcastic Taylor Swift-esque threat in my house. However, I always get the same gut reaction…I SAY to myself and others that I will/they should write a poem…but I never actually write about those things.

    I would tell myself to write what you need. I tell others to write what needs to be written, those themes and spaces you keep going back to, even though it’s good to break out of old habits. I think poetic habits can be formed either out of comfort or necessity, and I find that when I have an urgent subject/topic/theme, my poems are strongest because I feel that they are purposeful and needed. I’ve noticed many of my poems to be centered on aftermath lately…the aftermath of grieving, aftermath of relationships, etc…and even when I start writing about an “unusual” topic like a tea kettle, it’ll end up being a poem about aftermath. These things have a way of working themselves into every piece, whether that is good or bad.

    So, write what you need. Write about the tea kettle and see what grander idea or conclusion it’ll bring you to. It’s kind of amazing how much symbolism and meaning exists within the inanimate and how our job is to extract it all and craft beautiful things from it.

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