I’ve dabbled in poetry off and on since my late teens. I’ll go through spurts of massive writing stints followed by some lean months, depending on what’s going on in my life. Over the years, writing and reading poetry has improved my mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
Writing poetry, fiction, memoir, nonfiction, or even a blog post makes me happier, calmer, more peaceful, and less stressed. When I’m writing, everything is right with my world. If I go too long without writing, I can tell because I get grumpy! When I feel the grumps coming on, it’s my sign to start writing-—even writing a blog post will get me smiling again.
Research is just starting to reveal what poets and writers have known for centuries.
From the NPR article, Can Poetry Keep You Young? “The early evidence suggests that the arts have positive cognitive, social, and emotional impact on older adults.”
When I’m in the flow of my writing—whether it’s poetry, fiction, or nonfiction—it’s like being infused in a certain healing frequency….like a cat purring on my lap. (Fun fact: Did you know that cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz? Researchers have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing. Scientific American)
In the NPR article, one poetry workshop participant said, “Poetry helped me begin to focus how I felt about losing my son. When you lose, you also remember what you had before the loss. And so poetry allows you to begin to look at a relationship, at what was of value to you.”
If you’re looking for a writing topic, do what poet and short story writer Raymond Carver did.
Carver wrote about people and situations that made a lasting emotional impression on him.
In an interview with Nicholas O’Connell for the book, At the Field’s End: Interviews With 22 Pacific Northwest Writers, published in 1987, Carver said the stories and poems he’d written were not autobiographical but have a starting point in the real world.
“Stories don’t just come out of thin air; they come from someplace, a wedding of imagination and reality, a little autobiography and a lot of imagination,” Carver said in the interview. Read more
Instead of making a list of New Year’s resolutions, my friend Nicole likes to have a theme – a single statement that encompasses a key idea that she wants to focus on for the year. For 2012, I decided to adopt a writing theme – one that would help me focus on the power of imagination.
Sometimes it’s easy to over think the writing process. I’ll worry if I don’t know where my story is going. I begin to doubt myself and the project. Then I have to remind myself (again) that we write to discover, to find out what happens. It’s okay if I don’t know everything that’s going to happen.
In The Story Behind the Story: 26 Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work, author Stephen Dobyns says he was inspired to write a book of short stories after hearing advice from writing mentor Raymond Carver. Dobyns asked Carver how he had written a particular story:
“He (Carver) said the first sentence had come into his mind and he just followed it. The sentence was something like: “He was vacuuming the living room rug when the telephone rang.” Carver said, ‘It came into my head and so I tried to see what came next.’ In such a way had the story unwound itself.”
After the first sentence, the whole process had been a process of discovery. Read more
In my last post, I wrote about poet and author Raymond Carver’s law: “…to use up the best that was in him each day and to trust that more would come.” Carver exemplifies this philosophy in his last book of poetry, A New Path to the Waterfall, where some of the best poems are also some of the shortest.
My favorite is a poem called “Quiet Nights”—four short lines about life, death, and rebirth. This poem reminds me of my process of becoming a writer and an artist—each day dying to the old and reawakening to the new, pulling at my ropes, wanting to set sail to the next new place my writing will bring me. And what about Carver’s Law? I learned that I don’t need to hold anything back, that I can give my all each moment on the page because, in giving everything I have, I make room for the new. Read more
I tend to view the world in terms of poetry, finding meaning and metaphor in everything from the way the rain falls here in the Pacific Northwest, to the process of replanting a lilac tree, to how my grandmother drags branches to her burn pile or shells peas while watching the sun set over the Olympic Mountains. This may be why I admire Raymond Carver’s poetry so much—because he writes about common people and events, yet manages to transcend their commonness into something beautiful.
When I first discovered Carver, nicknamed the great “American Chekov” for his short stories, it was his poetry that drew my attention. Carver’s last book of poems, A New Path to the Waterfall,written while he was dying of cancer, quickly became my favorite as I read it over and over, each time moved to tears, especially over the introduction by his wife and fellow poet Tess Gallagher. Read more
Writing feeds my soul. I do it because it makes me happy. But too often my writing time gets whittled away by other things. I have my excuses—it’s because I do so many things: run a business, keep my clients happy, take care of the house, act as servant and maid to our three cats. It’s easy to get scattered and before I know it, the day’s over and I’m asking, “What did I do to feed my soul today?”
My intent is to write first thing in the morning but that doesn’t always happen—often I end up squeezing a bit of writing in between work-related projects. So, how do I switch gears and jump-start my creative process if I only have a few minutes? Read more