The Blog of John Hewitt

Write a poem about something trending – 31p31d

This is what was trending on my Facebook page today.

This is what was trending on my Facebook page today. In a week it will be a historical document.

Day 3 of 31 poems 31 days

The outside world

The first couple days of our poetry project have focused on the personal. Poetry can be therapeutic. It can help you to explore personal issues and to capture the events of your life. If all poets stuck to writing about themselves, however, the world of poetry would be far too narrow. For every poet who writes about the personal, there is another poet writing about the external world.

Poetry that is focused on issues, causes and events can be very powerful. This type of poetry can inform people, change people’s views or even spur people to action. Poetry has, for all of history, been a tool for social change and the expression of political and philosophical ideas. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, for example, was an introduction it a sub-culture that most of America knew nothing about. Pablo Neruda, a passionate Chilean poet and communist politician, once read his poetry to a live audience of over 100,000 people, the largest known crowd to ever assemble to hear a poetry reading.

Inside out

Poetry can be issue-oriented and still be personal. Political movements take place at every level. Social issues such as homelessness, health care, immigration, discrimination, addiction, physical abuse and mental illness are felt most strongly by the people who experience them first hand. The world is an imperfect place and humans are the living embodiment of all those imperfections.

A voice in the wilderness

You can’t solve the problems of the world in a single poem. There is only so much that can be accomplished with poetry, and solving the world’s problems is pretty tall order. Your goal in writing about an issue is self expression more than change. You want your poem to influence, not dominate.

But is it art?

Another key to writing issue-oriented poetry is to remember that the poem should not take back seat to the issue it addresses. Make every line interesting and memorable to the reader. Make your images sharp and specific. Keep your reader interested until the end. Don’t work too hard at drawing conclusions and giving instructions or you will risk leaving the reader feeling manipulated, which is a quick and easy way to lose your audience.

Not everyone will love you

One final thing to remember is that when you take a stand, you can expect dissent. Some people are easily offended and angered. Some people are so locked into their own mindset that they will lash out at anything that disputes their view. There may even be some people out there who will intelligently and calmly demonstrate that you are wrong. Worse yet, you may find that the people who take your side are more offensive than the people who disagree with you. Taking a stand means taking a risk. There’s no way around that.

Today’s assignment

It doesn’t always pay to follow the crowd, but lets give it a try today. If you have FaceBook or Twitter, you are probably familiar with the trending feature, a quick list of items people are talking about (or some sponsor is trying to get people to talk about). Pick a trending story and write about it, or just write about trends in general.

Write about changing your opinion – 31p31d

A hand explores

The reward is worth the risk

Personal Therapy

Poetry can be excellent therapy. It allows you to process the events in your life, both good and bad. Some people shy away from writing personal poems because they either don’t think their life is important enough to write about or because they fear opening up those emotions and rehashing painful moments in their lives. Writing about yourself and the things that happen to you can be difficult.

Processing Events

Learn to process the events in your life with poetry. You don’t have to start with the most painful events in your life. The problem with writing about major traumas is that is so difficult to capture them in words. When something horrible happens to you, words often seem inadequate. You can save writing about those events for when you are feeling particularly brave and strong. Start small. Start with the little stresses and minor conflicts that make up most days. Many times, it is the smaller moments in our lives, not the larger ones, which are the most telling and interesting.

You are a Character

One of the keys to writing about the events in your life is to accept yourself as a character. When you are writing about yourself, you are essentially writing a persona poem, and the persona is you. A person reading your poem is going to be viewing you as a character in the poem. They may understand that you are writing about yourself, but they will still be viewing you as a character that they are trying to interpret and connect with.

First or Third

Some people find it helpful to write about themselves in the third person. Using this technique they move even further toward viewing themselves as a character. This technique allows them to step outside of themselves and view the events in a more detached way. Some people are comfortable with that process, while others prefer to stay in the first person. I, for one, like to stay in the first person.

Honesty as Policy

Some people wonder how honest you have to be when writing about yourself and your life. They fear that if they veer from the exact events, that they will be lying. This depends on your point of view. I try to be as truthful as possible in my poems, but the problem with being utterly truthful is that you may not be comfortable letting other people read your poetry, especially those who might be involved in the events. In reviewing my old poems the other day, I came across one that I know would be very hurtful to a friend if I released it, so I left it sitting on my hard drive, unread by the world. I could fictionalize it a little more but in the end I would rather keep it private and let it be true than change so I could publish it.

There is no doubt that writing about yourself comes with a certain degree of personal risk, but I believe the reward is worth the risk. Not only do you get to process the events of your life, but with luck you get an interesting character to write about.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write about moment in which you changed your opinion about something. It could be something important, or something minor. The change is important. We often hold beliefs for years and years, only to find that a small change in circumstances alters everything.

If you are writing your poems somewhere other than this site’s comments, please take a moment to let us know you did the assignment and how you felt about it.

Write a poem about something you gave away as a child – 31p31d

Something given...

Something given…

Entry 1 in 31 poems in 31 days…

Where Poetry Came From

As long as there has been language, there has been poetry. Most of the earliest surviving texts were written in verse, but the poetic tradition stretches back to before the days of the written word, when stories and history were passed down orally using storytellers who used such devices as meter, rhyme and alliteration to ease the task or remembering and reciting tales that in many cases took days to tell.

The Evolution of Poetry

Over the years, history has become an academic pursuit rooted far more in prose than in verse. The age of the epic poem has passed. A book length poem is an anomaly these days. Poems tend to be shorter and less structured than in earlier times. Poetry forms are rarely used and such poetic devices as rhyme and alliteration have fallen out of favor, especially in the English Language, which lacks some of the lyrical qualities of languages such as Italian, Spanish and French.

For Love, Not Money

Poetry, in today’s world is at best a minor niche in the writing industry. Best selling books of poetry are few and far between. The major markets are dominated by fiction, self help, political and business books. Most new books of poetry sell fewer than a thousand copies and those that reach the tens of thousands are considered highly successful. This is a standard that falls far short of the fiction market, for which you need to sell a half a million books to be considered successful. Most book publishers don’t even publish poetry anymore. Those that do so continue to do it mainly out of a love for poetry rather than an expectation of profits.

A Small World

Poetry is not, however, without its fans. There is a small but thriving poetry community. If you live in a city of reasonable size, chances are that you can find at least one poetry reading happening in a given week. There are also poetry festivals and poetry slams (competitive poetry events) that take place in some communities. The Internet is also a thriving place for poets, with the blogging format making it easy for the average person to publish their poetry quickly and easily.

Just Like Chess Fans

Poetry is not a business. Your chances of making a living as a professional poet are about the same as your chances of making a living as a professional chess player. Both are activities that many people enjoy doing, but very few people pay to see. The only difference is that it is relatively easy to prove whether or not you are a good chess player, but whether or not you are a good poet is a much more subjective question.

Why You Should Write

The point I am getting at, in a very roundabout way, is that the best reason to write poetry is because it is something you enjoy doing or at least it is something you get some sort of emotional or spiritual benefit from doing. There is no other good reason to write poetry. If you want to be rich or famous, you’ve come to the wrong field. If you want to express yourself and join a small but thriving community of people who like to do the same, poetry is one way to go. If you love to write poetry, do it. Always try to improve, but don’t worry about whether you are “good enough” or if you “have what it takes” because poetry is about the journey far more than the result.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem about something you gave away when you were a child or when you no longer felt like you were a child. Try to think of an object that had some emotional significance to you. Avoid a description of how you felt about the event then or how you feel about it now. Try to make the significance of the event come through in your descriptions of the item and the cause of giving it way.

Feel free to post your poem in the comments or on your own site with a link back to here. This will give other people the opportunity to read your poem.