I started regularly writing poems in 2009 after two friends asked me to help them write song lyrics. My friends Zack, Marcus and I were sitting around a campfire late one night in the mountains. Zach was holding a guitar and Marcus was playing a banjo. Zack said “Nate, you were an English major. Do you think you teach us how to write song lyrics?”
I said “Well, I don’t know if I can teach you to write song lyrics, but I can write some song lyrics for you. Give me a few weeks?” Since I didn’t really know how to teach someone how to write a poem, I figured I could offer to try writing some lyrics myself.
Over the next 2-3 months I worked, by myself, on writing poems, which I intended to transform into lyrics. I didn’t really think of them as song lyrics or try to put them to music. I wrote about 30 poems, each exactly one page long and sent the guys a Facebook message, telling them I’d written some stuff. But, I never heard back from the guys. I guess they didn’t want the lyrics or learned to write some for themselves.
The fact they never asked for the poems didn’t bother me. Marcus and Zach’s request pushed me into a habit that I’ve continued to do nearly 8 years later. The need to produce “song lyrics” made put words on a page.
I filled up one blue Five Star college ruled binder with about 143 poems between 1-3 pages long. None of these poems rhyme, they are all free verse. Next I started writing in a teal Five Start notebook. Since 2009, I’ve written maybe 170 poems.
Learning How to Write Poetry is Knowing When to Get a Blank Piece of Paper
Today, if someone asked me “Nate, can you teach me how to write a poem?”-----I now know what to say.
The ability to write a poem, for me, comes from being aware of situations when I would like to write a poem. The best times for me to write a poem are a reaction to an inner visceral tension that I need to find a way to resolve. The tension is often a feeling in my stomach that I can’t quite fully understand. Sometimes I am anxious about something, sometimes I am really sad, sometimes I feel really inspired, sometimes I feel very passionate about a truth I have just discovered. Sometimes I just witnessed something amazing or beautiful that I cannot forget and I have no one to share it with. Sometimes I write are about times when my life seems to contradict itself. Confusion creates lots of my poems.
However, many times when I feel an inner visceral tension, I am more prone to escape from the feeling. Strong emotions (confusion, anxiousness, intense sadness, especially) push me to the following:
• Eat ice cream
• Take a 20 minute jog
• Order a pizza
• Check my email, even though I already checked it two hours before
• Watch my favorite movie Good Will Hunting for the 12th time
• Check the ESPN.com box score to see if Russell Westbrook got a triple-double
• Take a melatonin pill so I can go to sleep
There’s nothing wrong with some escapism. But, for me, poetry often is a way to physically face something that is bothering me. The things I’ve listed above are good things that, if abused, can waste time or the chance to write a good poem.
Rather than doing one of the things listed above, I think it is better for me to get out the “inner visceral tension” by grabbing a blank sheet of paper and write for 15 minutes.
I think a person has to develop an awareness of the moment when they should write a poem in response to certain thoughts, moods or emotions. Typically, I want to go into escapism to get certain thoughts out of my head. But instead, I’ve developed an awareness of when I should grab a notebook and jot down what I am thinking------with the intention that no one (maybe someone) would read it.
What Being Aware of “the Poetic Moment” Looks Like
Here are two examples of being aware:
Poem Awareness Example #1 (Resolving Confusing Emotions): On Wednesday April 19th, I came home from work with this undefined feeling after getting home. I was laying there on my ugly yellow couch in my work clothes at about 6:30pm. I felt overwhelmed from a long and intense day at work. It was about 3 hours after Spring Fest, this big event I was in charge of the school. The event had been successful, but only after I had endured 2 weeks of difficult choices and intense management. The hard part was over-------why did I feel so empty? Why do I feel down? Why wasn’t I fully relieved and celebrating?
I did not know, so I went and got my poetry notebook and wrote a poem about leadership. I wrote a poem about what I thought leadership was when I was in high school versus what I think leadership as a 33 year old man. It was a comparison of the two, and by the end of this, I felt better, because I had a more logical understanding of why I felt so down.
Poem Awareness Example #2(Passionate Belief Defined): Over the last 2-3 years I’ve watched quite a few World War II movies and TV shows. I’ve watched “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers,” and “The Thin Red Line.” I came to the same conclusion after watching each of these------I am very, very glad that I never had to go to a war. I am glad I never had to go through the terrible fears of being killed, having to witness someone being killed as a solider. Or being asked to kill someone. Yet, growing up as a child, I always wanted to be a solider. As a boy, I wanted to be a solider.
One night, in response to watching “The Thin Red Line,” I really started thinking about this. It might have been in the middle of the movie------I think I just paused the movie-------and wrote the poem. This was less of an emotional response-------but a very thoughtful poem. I’d been thinking about this belief for months.
When I wrote this poem, I imagined my audience as the type of people who glorify or romanticize the idea of fighting in World War II. I am thankful that I was born in a generation who was not required to fight in a war in contrast to the Greatest Generation who was forced to go fight in Germany or Japan in the 1940’s. Living in 2017, I should be happy that I can live a peaceful life in North Carolina, and have choices about what I want to do with my life. Many men throughout American (and world) history did not have this choice of what they wanted to do with their life because they were required to fight in a war. I believe God made me into a human being to become a servant like Jesus Christ, not modern battle combat.
To complete this blog entry, I made a note on my to-do list to "Complete the Poetry Blog." I make myself write even when I do not feel like it. In contrast, I have never put “write a poem” on my to-do list. It is something that is a response to what is happening. A person wanting to write a poetry should learn how to become aware to different moods, emotions or thoughts that might be cause them grab a blank piece of paper or open a Word file.
You don’t really know when it will happen, so get in the habit of being ready.