An Outsider, Wanna-be Poet’s Advice to Herself About How to Write Poetry

  1. To write poetry, you have to be fluent in the naming of things. You may not be a great magician of syntax—you may be a displaced eighteen-year-old on an eleven-hour train ride to Mississippi with little to no formed ideas about the world—but still, you have to know how to name things. That is to say, when you see apartment complexes that are really just boxes made into homes, you have to know to name them just that: boxes made into homes. You have to know that the true name of the labyrinth is a “green and growing nunnery” and you have to know that “cocooned quiet” is what you call the feeling of being wrapped in a warm towel. The true names of things have to be set in your vernacular, so that when you want to say something true, all the hours of observing and weaving and editing really just come down to the stripping of a moment to its naked, honest self. Writing a poem is undressing what you see, not adorning it with new and unnatural meanings and ornaments. In other words, my pre-poem routine of flipping through poetry books, blogs, and the dictionary, and googling the name of this tree (which is a eucalyptus tree) simply isn’t cutting it.
  2. In case you wondered, you can’t write a poem that will capture love or the experience of moving 8,010 miles away from home or that sickness you feel when you remember watching the colourful sunset from the Indian Ocean coastline. Abstract emotions—love, nostalgia, panic—are too elusive to expect a poem to articulate. All a poem can do is tell you what an empty hummus container looks like when you scrape the bottom with a corn chip or what someone saw through their neighbour’s open window or what the man looked like when he was distracted from writing on a serviette corner by some pungent, unpleasant smell. You have to get used to writing about the daily glories, and only that.

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