I don't honestly read much poetry, which is probably why I don't write it very well. I read two poetry books last year: Open Letter to Quiet Light and Fairy Tales in Electri-City. (Links go to my reviews.) I was very good at analyzing poetry in school, and it's one of the only forms of writing where I actually think the sound/rhythm/imagery can sometimes be MORE important than the meaning of the content. There's something to be said for making something that just sounds pretty, though the best poems are of course both mellifluously written and very meaningful.
I was a little poet when I was a kid. I was always writing dumb little poems and my mom adored them. She thought that was my best talent, and sometimes she still says I should write poetry, though of course there's not a whole lot of opportunity to sell it except to magazines and anthologies, and there are so many scams. Poetry isn't easy, and I always treated it like it was. Just kind of slopped words down and thought they were cool. Even then I wasn't much for imagery (and I continue to be really bad at describing or being flowery in my novels, despite being a fantasy novelist!), and though I was actually really good at sticking to strict rhythms and rhyme schemes if I wanted to, most of my poetry was free verse.
I had a high school teacher who taught us what a Shakespearean sonnet was and assigned us to write one, but the outcry was so massive that she downgraded the requirements and gave us less difficult types to choose from. I wrote a Shakespearean one anyway and the teacher asked me after class if she could enter it in a contest. (I don't think she ever did, but I was kinda surprised by that.) Sometimes I'd get bored in class because they always made us take exams and then wait until everyone was done before we could leave, but we weren't allowed to read or do anything for fun, so I'd literally write poems on the desks. Here's one I managed to preserve that I titled "Desktop Art," written when I was about fifteen:
Look in any classroom:The last time I really wrote poetry was in college. I used to go to the Civic Media Center poetry jam every Thursday (or at least on the Thursdays I could handle it), and going to those jams usually made me more motivated to bring something to share.
Markings on the walls
Made by random students
Who at one time roamed these halls.
All the kids are gone now,
but what they wrote remains.
All the things they've thought of
while in the school board's chains.
Markings on the desktops,
Secret teenage thought;
Making an impression
is just the thing they've sought.
Words in class remaining
Long after they are gone;
Speaking on to other kids,
Desks they've written on.
I once wrote an entire series of poems based on each song in a concert I had to go to (it was my voice teacher performing, so I kind of couldn't miss it, but it was kinda awful; the songs themselves were pretty, though). I sat up in the rafters in a hallway that led to the balconies, by myself, and wrote poetry. Here's one of the rhyming ones I cobbled together in college, which was kind of my answer to "The Road Not Taken," entitled "Keys to the Past":
They say once you come to a fork in the road
and you choose the left path, not the right,
you'll wander around, try to find your way back,
but you'll find you lost track of the site.
They say the same things happen often in life;
that we sometimes will make a decision
and then wish forever that we'd taken care
to make choices with extra precision.
Many are types who bemoan what they lost
and complain they're in need of the key
to the door which would open the future back up
and allow them to shift destiny.
I think there is nothing that's all said and done.
Our choices are all without bound.
Sometimes the doors of the past can be opened,
for certain lost keys can be found.
In almost all cases, the past is not gone,
and the ways are at our fingertips.
Our keys are not lost when we keep them around
with the elements of today's trips.
Right on the keyring you use every day
there are often a couple of keys
that you had completely forgotten about
but whose memories manage to please.
Some of the keys are much harder to find,
such as those that you used as a spare;
under a doormat, or locked in a box
that you still have the key to somewhere.
Sometimes the ways to the past are not lost,
but are simply forgotten about.
Once we accept that our doors are wide open,
it's easy to find the way out.
I hung out with a lot of poets in college. Most of them were really cool people that I socialized with outside of the jam and most of them wrote stuff I really liked. A couple were really pretentious, though. Particularly one person who was always claiming that he was a real poet unlike all those posers at the jam. Used to give his poems Latin titles just to make them look cooler, and once told my sister that she couldn't have understood his Latin-titled poem because she asked what the phrase meant. I overheard him once admitting to someone that he no longer remembered what a lot of his own allusions and references meant. But yeah, sure guy, it's the rest of those jam guys who are posers. Dealing with people like that kind of soured me on the scene, but I still liked occasional open mic events and whatnot.
Nowadays, usually when I get an idea it doesn't become a poem. It just becomes a short story or a vignette or a novel. And even the poems I do write are actually more like prose--which I guess is why I call them prose poems. :) I'll end with one of those, and then that's enough for this rambly, directionless post.
Somehow the strings became tangled. The yellow yarn hidden inside the green yarn. The green yarn wrapped within the yellow yarn. Bits of each knotted in each other.
Long threads of green ensnared in closet junk. Snatches of yellow trapped in shoelaces. I lift the mess out and try to make sense of it. First I toss the yarn from hand to hand. Pulling. Separating. Unwinding. No rhyme or reason to what I am doing. I do not know if I am making progress or tangling them further. One glance gives me no clue.
I realize that I must find the beginning of one or the other. It does not matter, so I pull apart and look for dangling ends. The sad end of the yellow string droops out of the center knot. I take hold of it and pull. A knot quickly reasserts itself, and I refrain from yanking again, thinking I could damage it and lose both lengths of yarn.
I unwind it carefully with nimble fingers. The yellow hides in the green but I coax it out. I see it seeming to make a knot only to unwind obediently when asked by a gentle tug.
Soon enough the yellow is separated from the green. There is far less of the yellow so I cast it aside, deciding to use the green for my project. But now the green is tangled in itself, and I cannot find its beginning.
I search. All I find is endless yarn, clumping around its elusive beginning. I reach back into the cords, feeling for the start of it. I think for a moment that I've found it, but it cannot be pulled out. I must unwind it bit by bit.
I begin the task. I run each cord through my fingers, checking for knots and unwinding the ones I find, until finally the tangle is gone.
I hold the end in my hand. And now I am dead.