A Poem Before You Write

Dashing off a poem as a writing exercise as a means to not only get some words down on paper, but to provide a sense of order and meaning to the words you write down.

I always struggle to stick with my writing plan. I know — just shut up and write. If it was only that easy. The truth is, I don’t mind playing around with different tips and tricks, because I need them. Things that work don’t keep on working. Mixing it up with new ideas helps me find the flow.

Lately, it’s been poetry that has been helping me. Not reading it. Writing it.

I’ve been dashing off poems as soon as I sit down to write. This helps get the writing going, from thought in my head to the tapping of keys on the laptop. But it does more than this — it helps me set a tone, as well as establish an order of things. Each line in the poem is like the building block of a chapter, or an element to a short story. A natural arc begins to show itself.

Here’s the poem I wrote to help me get started with this short essay:

There you are again
blank screen
staring back at me
as if I am nothing

It feels right, your assessment.
I should just walk over to the fridge
crack open a beer
and watch another episode of whatever the fuck is on

Instead, I recall a line from my favorite show
that’ll be the day
at least on this day
there I am again
staring back at the screen
as if it’s nothing.

I don’t pretend to be a good poet. Perhaps it’s better to say that I wish I was good at poetry. Can I also admit that sometimes I write a poem and I think to myself: Man, that is really good.

Don’t worry. I am not fooling myself.

Regardless of whether the poetry is any good or not, I can say definitively that it is helping me get some words down in a way that moves my stories along in, at the very least, some semblance of a decent direction. That is a good thing.

I’ve used the poetry writing exercise not just to get started, but to help me get unstuck when I’ve got myself stuck somewhere in the morass of what might or might not be the middle, and I’ve used poetry to help me find a way to finish up a piece of writing.

With regard to the actual poems: I certainly don’t think anyone would get what I am trying to convey in the poem, or perhaps it’s the other way around — that it’s all too surface and easy to decipher. Perhaps “decipher” is too heavy a word. Maybe it just reads like one big cliche. And yet, I understand the poem. It’s helping me to better understand how to get my point across with the words I am putting to “paper.”

The gut check here is that I’m a sucker for poetry, especially all the poems that most people are suckers for. A Pablo Neruda poem can stir it all up each and every time. And how wonderful it is to not get a poem. I’ll keep trying to figure it out, whether I want to or not. The meaningfulness of not comprehending, but continuing to search for meaning, in the waking hour, but also, in dreams, is what makes poetry so wondrous and beautiful.

Perhaps what I love most about poetry is how easy it seems — like it’s right there, for the taking. And yet, deep down, you know it’s not easy at all, to even get close to adequate. It’s fun to make a run at it. Finding that it helps my writing efforts across the board has been an added bonus to the joy I’ve always felt about poetry.