Now is the time when earth cracks her skirt like a whip and sends her dress up in flames The place where she strips down to her bones and dances fiercely with the stars Where instead of bundling up against bitterness she throws down her ashen cloak and covers ground with softness as air-akin as moth. Where she turns her naked face to the outer dark seared by stars and eyes of owls with sight so keen no mouse is safe in its warmest, most secret, most carefully padded nest Where all the labor of harvest comes to naught and death flies on furred wings across winter steal to grinning, starry heights Where she pauses to sing among bare barked trees that glow brown as dove breasts, and mauve as dusk, “It has ended! It has ended!” Then she rests, mute and hard, seemingly for eternity before she has to put her shoulder back to the sun-warmed, moss covered, millstone of life.
Who knew this medium could help you revise and memorize? First you have to find a poem that fits easily into 60 seconds. It can’t be much more than 20 lines, because you need to speak slowly if you want people to really absorb it. Normal speaking rate for public speaking is about 150 words a minute. For poetry, I’d go slower. You have to do so many takes that it forces you to learn the lines and to make better decisions about how to say them. Add a little music, flip the camera around to record something besides your face once in a while, and voila!
People used to tell me I was really a poet, not a fiction writer because I tended to focus more on wording than plot. I disagreed. For one thing, I was afraid of poetry and had always preferred to read stories. Years later, after much writing, reading, and teaching, I’ve learned a lot about plot and character development, and I’m no longer afraid of poetry either, as I explain in this Tiktok video.
I tend to like more accessible poets, but if they’re too accessible, they don’t reverberate- which is one of the best properties of poetry. “Reverberate” is my word for when you keep finding more layers of meaning as you go over it. I liken poetry to a riddle. It’s like playing scrabble or chess. You want it to give you something to unravel, but you don’t want to be totally left out in the cold.
It’s hard to teach poetry, because it’s so darn subjective, but I believe I’ve come up with some good general rules: It should be compressed, it should make leaps of association, it should shift in some way (for example, from inside to out, from past to present, from abstract to concrete), it should make meaningful use of line breaking, it should appeal concretely to the senses, and it should be original. The parameters are broad intentionally.
I have a fondness for Wallace Stevens, even though he can be pretty abstract. I’ve found that it’s easier to understand a poet if you read a lot of their poetry all together, because you start to be able to crack their code. Memorizing poetry is another way to to understand a poem, and it has the added benefit of being good for your brain and making you seem super erudite (not that we need to try, right?
I have a terrible memory, so it took me a while to memorize Wallace Steven’s “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour.” Making a tiktok out of it was the clincher.
Summing up the meaning in a few sentences does it a disservice, so just take this as a conversation starter. The poem suggests our imagination is a powerful force, as powerful as that thing we call God. Yet sis poems “The Emperor of Ice Cream” and “Of Mere Being,” suggest he was an atheist, so poem seems to be suggesting that i wrapping ourselves in the beauty of poetry and the brilliance of a mind that puts itself to good use makes life worth living.
Sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury said he warms up for writing every morning by reading poetry first. You can tell by the poetic nature of his lines. Many writers write in more than one genre, but this isn’t well known because publishers think pigeonholing us makes us more marketable.
We don’t live to be marketable, and while I wouldn’t mind selling a few thousand copies of Strange Appetites, my book of short stories coming out in September and Blue Woman Burning, the novel coming out in December, I don’t write to be marketable, either. I write to be lifted by that candle Stevens talks about that lights the dark. I aim to blend a good plot with the best aspects of poetry. And my hope is that when you read my work, you too, are warmed by it and find that “being there together is enough.”