Lisa Ricard Claro – Author

Romance is good for your heart!

Writing Great Poetry—Step 1: Open a Vein . . .

Posted on Aug 16, 2017 by Lisa Ricard Claro   12 Comments | Posted in The Naked Truth

My internal editor cringed when I found this poem yesterday morning, buried in a box of other writings also penned by my much younger self. I was just eighteen when I wrote this, sitting in my Datsun outside the UNLV student union, nervous about some impending event which I cannot recall. I dug through my purse for paper and pen, using the car’s cigarette lighter to heat the nub of the pen when it refused to write. I scribbled the words as the minutes ticked by, bringing me closer to whatever it was that made me nervous in the first place. And then, of course, the waiting ended. I did whatever the anxiety-inducing thing was, and I survived.

I have no idea why I kept it. Perhaps it became trapped between other papers, or maybe I’m such a packrat I just never threw it away. No matter the reason, the memory of it drifted back to me with weird clarity after almost forty years. Why? What is it about that little poem that stuck with me? Maybe because it’s a snapshot of my youthful anxiety and, truth be told, I’m not sure my adult anxiety looks any different. Thank goodness my writing skills have improved. 🙂

In many ways, our writings are like photographs, snapshots of who we are, or were, in a particular moment or stretch of time. They do more than just show how the quality of our work has evolved. Our writings also show something about ourselves.

More than straight prose, I believe poetry draws back the curtain on a writer’s state of mind. Do you agree or disagree? And just in case you’re not positive about the difference between poetry and prose, here’s a quote that explains it beautifully:

“When you write in prose, you cook the rice. When you write poetry, you turn rice into rice wine. Cooked rice doesn’t change its shape, but rice wine changes both in quality and shape. Cooked rice makes one full so one can live out one’s life span . . . wine, on the other hand, makes one drunk, makes the sad happy, and the happy sad. Its effect is sublimely beyond explanation.” —Wu Qiao

Poetry strikes me as an intensely personal thing, more than any other writing. For instance, with my novels I take on the persona of the character I’m creating. What is that character thinking and feeling in the moment? Whatever that is, that’s what I put on the page. It isn’t me, it’s the character. But with poetry, the poet himself is at the heart of it, and writing a moving poem requires a level of openness with which I’m uncertain I’m capable. If there’s an art to writing great poetry without first opening a vein, I don’t know what it is. Poets, if you’re out there, please weigh in on this. Am I making it more complicated than it is?

Because I love quotes, I found a few pertinent ones to share:

“Poems are other people’s snapshots in which we see our own lives.” —Charles Simic

“Poems, to me, do not come from ideas, they come from a series of images that you tuck away in the back of your brain. Little photographic snapshots. Then you get the major vision of the poem, which is like a giant magnet to which all these disparate little impressions fly and adhere, and there is the poem!”  —Carolyn Kizer

“A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” —Robert Frost

“Wine is bottled poetry.” —Robert Louis Stevenson

Okay, so that last one doesn’t really fit the topic, but it couldn’t be overlooked. 🙂

And now, some questions for you. First, do you save everything you write? Or do you toss the stuff you know isn’t your best work—the crappy rough drafts, the late night musings, the scribbles on old receipts? What would your older writings tell the world about you? If you aren’t a writer, what is your reader’s view of poetry? Do you enjoy it? And if you’re a poet, please share one of your poems in the comments. Give us a peek through the door.

Thanks for hanging out with me! See you next week for more of the Naked Truth.

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12 Responses to "Writing Great Poetry—Step 1: Open a Vein . . ."

  1. Comment by Robert Robinson
    August 16, 2017 at 10:38 am  

    I keep everything from first draft, subsequent revisions, and final product. I keep these as proof that I wrote the piece. If you ever have to go to court to prove your authorship, you’ll need this paper trail.

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      August 16, 2017 at 11:10 am  

      True! I do keep all that stuff, though the bulk of it is saved electronically. After so many years, there’s just too much paper!

  2. Comment by Susan C. Bonifant
    August 16, 2017 at 11:35 am  

    I keep a copy of everything I’ve finished, and never, ever look at it.

    Intrigued by your question: what would early writing say about you? My early writing (when my four kids were 10 – 18) would say “I love my life and full house, but I’m strong enough to be alone, too.”

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      August 16, 2017 at 1:50 pm  

      Great answer, Susan. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Comment by ButtonsMom2003
    August 16, 2017 at 2:42 pm  

    I used to save copies of things I wrote for work. Sometimes I referred back to them and thought: hmmm, that was pretty good. 🙂 Usually they were proposals or justifications for equipment purchases. Since they usually involved a lot of research they came in handy if I had to write something similar again.

    Now I save all of the emails I get from Amazon when I post a review. 🙂 Makes it easy to find one if I need to refer to it for some reason. 🙂

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      August 16, 2017 at 7:22 pm  

      You’ve made a great point, as far as the research is concerned. Saving things sometimes make life a whole lot easier later on!

  4. Comment by Evelyn Krieger
    August 16, 2017 at 6:22 pm  

    Great post, Lisa. I loved the poetry quotes. I’ve been thinking a lot about this (and hoping to write a post on it myself).
    I have saved much of my poetry, short stories, and journals from since I was a teenager. While I do cringe at some of the writing (and also laugh out loud), the writing serves to bring me back in touch with that girl and, later, young woman. I can see the development of her writing as well as her self. http://www.evelynkrieger.net

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      August 16, 2017 at 7:23 pm  

      It’s wonderful and strange, isn’t it, that particular byproduct of being a long-time writer? We do have the means of peeking back at our younger selves in ways that others do not.

  5. Comment by Sioux Roslawski
    August 16, 2017 at 6:38 pm  

    Lisa–I agree about poetry. When writing prose, you can pad the piece with extra words. When writing poetry, the words are sparse, and so is the buffer (protection) between the poet and the reader.

    I keep everything I write (these days) but there was one poem I wrote in high school that I wish I had a copy of. The rest of it–angst-filled poop.

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      August 16, 2017 at 7:24 pm  

      Haha…succinctly put. Angst-filled poop it might be, but probably still worth reading, even if you’re the only one reading it!

  6. Comment by Cathy C. Hall
    August 17, 2017 at 11:33 am  

    I’ve kept SO much of my writing (hard copies, not just digital) and unfortunately, that includes some really bad angst-filled poop poetry from my teen years. 🙂 But I’m thinking of doing a purge…save my kids the trouble of tossing it all and/or saves me from packing it all for a someday move.

    • Comment by Lisa Ricard Claro
      August 23, 2017 at 9:50 am  

      I agree with you, Cathy. Best to do it before you HAVE to do it. There’s also the added thing of “no one else needs to read this.” For me that means the truly AWFUL historical romance I wrote when I was 19 or 20. It’s in the “shred it” box now, and none too soon probably!


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