The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams

Source: the poet
Paperback, 102 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams digs deep into masculinity’s myths and confronts its history of violence and of atrocities committed against people of different backgrounds. It is a look at America’s past that is coming into the light and begs us to reckon with it, acknowledge it, and move forward with forgiveness and compassion. For those in the current time who have not committed heinous acts, we still must face what we’ve inherited by the privilege of whiteness and maleness and seek the best path forward for the future or there may be little of it left for anyone.

In the “My American Ghost” section’s opening poem, “Pantomime,” the music of the wind is reviving the sheets into bodies as “We wait/for the well out back to//illuminate its drowned coins,/all the gods overrun by prayers//” (pg. 5) In this section, there are poems that try to tackle the issue of racism in this country with poems about Emmett Till//Edward Hopper, Prometheus//Trayvon Martin, Rosa Parks//Banksy, internment, and more. This section is a hard read as I think about whether we need another “white” man telling us about tragedy or civil rights, but these poems want us to question that and turn that questioning gaze unto ourselves as the privileged class of Americans who benefit the most from the systems of oppression. Hopper’s oil paintings of lone characters in dim settings mirror the shadows of Till’s murder and how “Skin can be its own//broken republic.” (pg. 7)

The Dead Just Need to Be Seen. Not Forgiven. (pg. 8)

That old man in the photo our family never talks about,
known best for tracking runaway slaves; tonight

we drag him from the basement up these loose
wood stairs & set out a plate of salted cabbage & rabbit--

so long since I've asked why the empty chair at our table.
With all the warmth a body has to give, we give up on

measuring the darkness between men. Dust & dusk enter
& are wiped from the room. The names we call each other

linger luminous & savage. Still. That tree I used to hang
tires from holds tight its dead centuries. The light

swinging from its branches we call rope-like,
which implies there's no longer rope. Tonight, we'll wash

the burnt out stars from his hair, all the crumbs from his beard.
The misfired bullet of his voice we let burn as it must.

It is clear that America’s past is part of who we are. In “Internment,” the narrator says, “This country goes/weak at the knees at the thought of you, how you nourish/the earth//” Further in this section, an abusive father appears in a story told to the narrator’s own children where the ending is changed to make it more palatable for kids’ ears. But we need to hear the full story, not just a rosy colored version, as the narrator reminds us in “My American Ghost,” “light strikes a coin/differently after a train/flattens its face:” … “our mouths, nestfuls of promises,/we shall open them almost/fully: swallow & speak for what/we’ve swallowed: a whole/new language of witness./” (pg. 30)

The Drowning House by John Sibley Williams is an America that fails to look its past in the eye, accept what has come before, and right that ship. “Is it true this ruin has been ours//the whole time?” (“Incendiary Device,” pg. 35) or can we be the narrator: “It turns out I was born with a matchbook/in my hands.” and “There’s a reason we refuse/to leave, even now.” (“Incendiary Device,” pg. 35). While exploring American darkness, Williams is reaching for the light with a hopeful hand for the next generation.

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

John Sibley Williams is the author of seven poetry collections, including Scale Model of a Country at Dawn (Cider Press Review Poetry Award), THE DROWNING WORKS (Elixir Press Poetry Award), As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press), and Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize). A twenty-six-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and founder of the Caesura Poetry Workshop series. Previous publishing credits include Best American Poetry, Yale Review, Verse Daily, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and TriQuarterly.

Sunday, May 1, 11-3 p.m. in Washington D.C.: Literary Hill BookFest

Even when National Poetry Month in April ends, there’s still more poetry to be had!

Literary Hill BookFest is on May 1 from 11 to 3 p.m. in Washington, D.C.’s Eastern Market. Address: 225 7th St. SE, Washington, D.C.

The Literary Hill BookFest is an annual celebration of books and authors held each spring on Capitol Hill.

I’ve only attended this festival online. You can see my video from 2021 on my Publication Credits page.

I hope to see some of you at Tunnicliff’s Tavern at 3 p.m. for the poetry open mic. It will be good to be around other poets at an in-person event! I’ll be reading with some fantastic poets:

Bring some cash or a venmo and you may be able to pick up some of their books at the reading.

In case you missed my recent online Zoom Reading: There’s a Poem in this Place, you can check it out here:

There's a Poem in This Place from Elizabeth Gauffreau on Vimeo.

Virtual Poetry Circle: Mary Oliver

Hello Everyone!

It’s National Poetry Month and in honor of April as National Canine Fitness Month, I’m going to share one of my favorite Mary Oliver Poems about dogs.

I’m sharing one of my favorite poems about dogs:


He puts his cheek against mine
and makes small, expressive sounds.
And when I’m awake, or awake enough

he turns upside down, his four paws
in the air
and his eyes dark and fervent.

“Tell me you love me,” he says.

“Tell me again.”

Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over
he gets to ask.
I get to tell.

Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Poetry Activity: Blackout Poems

Today, we’re going to try one of my favorite poetry activities: Blackout poetry.

This is one of the easiest forms to create because it really just requires you remove the text of an existing piece by blacking it out. The text can be from a book, newspaper, magazine, or poem. You’re going to redact it, much like the FBI or CIA would do when allowing the public to view government reports.

I’m going to use this poem from Robert Frost: Nothing Gold Can Stay.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Here’s my version:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

I’d love to hear about your experience with black out poetry. Feel free to take a photo and send it to me via email.

Guest Post: Clarity in Poetry by Shoushan Balian, author of Through the Soul Into Life

Today’s guest post is from poet Shoushan Balian, author of Through the Soul Into Life.

Check out the collection:

“This abrupt jolt
That rattled
The realms of my faith
Bent me, knocked me down
To the ineffability of my resilience”

A woman’s enigma and quest in search of herself and her power. Redefining her relationship with the world and the Divine with an earnest urge to pinpoint the cause of human suffering with an intent of alleviating it.

In Through The Soul Into Life by Shoushan B, we experience the complexities and the challenges of our inner world in relation to social norms, religion, politics, anguish, love, human rights and the hurdles that we have to face to recover our authenticity, spirituality and empathy.

Without further ado, please welcome Shoushan:

A time comes in our lives when we can no longer live life at face value, always distracted by everyday demands. Out of anxiety, frustration, and tiredness—and if we are curious enough—we stop… and start asking questions about our reality and the purpose of life. Questions without apparent answers, questions that keep us in limbo, or even questions that we avoid asking.

This journey started for me about twenty-five years ago. The more I examined my life, the more I realized the presence of pain, dissatisfaction, agony, disappointment, and so on… with a void almost impossible to fill. The more I scrutinized life in general, the more I perceived the wreckage caused by the human ego.

Eventually I began journaling my everyday inquiries and emotions. As I went along with my puzzling query, I came upon insights, as if some wiser part of me knew these all along. As I searched deeper and deeper, my understanding and explanations took a flight in such extensions, all the way to the distant beginning of our universe… tracing and understanding our journey, now as human beings, originating from the birth of our universe. A journey we are still continuing to unseen horizons. A journey worth living as long as our hearts are open to the presence of love. A journey to be ready to lose ourselves totally to redefine ourselves and to be ready to lose totally our misconception of life to reinvent ourselves from a place of self-acceptance, self-understanding, and respect for others and life.

This journey and introspection eventually, about seven years ago, led me to share my insights on my Facebook writer’s page, Shoushan B. This is how the process of writing poetry developed for me, combining my raw emotions and insights, distilling and condensing them in a distinctive style, in rhythmical lines and in rhyming words.

I owe my decision to publish my poetry collection, Through The Soul Into Life, to a very dear friend of mine, Hripsime. After reading my poems on my Facebook page, for four years she persistently pushed me to publish a book. Encouraged by her enthusiasm, I decided to polish some of my poems, write new ones, present them in a poetry collection, and actively search for a publisher until I found Atmosphere Press last February, who accepted for publication my first collection.

Life is a journey with its highlights and challenges, and it’s up to us how we navigate through it to grow and to discover our inborn gifts in order to share our experiences with others.

And I’m thankful for it!

About the Poet:

Shoushan Balian is of Armenian origin, born and raised in Beirut, Lebanon, later living in Paris, and now a resident of California. She is a writer, a poet, a visual artist and a visionary. She has published some of her poems on her Facebook and on Shoushan B writer’s page, and has read at poetry reading circles in the Bay Area. Through the Soul Into Life is Shoushan B’s first published poetry book.

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 98 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines, which toured in Winter 2021-22 with Poetic Book Tours, explores the evolution of a self-made woman from birth through her later years, enhanced by the water imagery of the undulating waves that affect our lives. This is clear from the first poem, “First Born,” in which a child is born and “breathes blue/water for air,/dark whorl/of muscle, hair,/sea whistle/sways in wave/after wave/of shore/” (pg. 17) In the next poem, “A Cry So Close to Song,” the child’s cry becomes the cry of a gull. Hines takes a look at the simplicity of childhood, but she also notes those moments when you’re given a nickname that might not be so flattering. Alternating between her own childhood and that of her own children, she’s creating a family story that comes in waves across the pages.

“Scarborough Sail” sees a father become a tall ship, with sturdy rigging to hold his child upright in a turbulent sea. It is clear the poem is speaking to some rocky moments in the narrator’s life, but how her father ensured she had a stable home and structure around her. With every tumble, she rises up again, stronger. By the end of the poem, she’s swimming on her own through the ocean “beeline into surf swell,/under mayhem, into sparkle.” (pg. 29)

Ritual (pg. 30)

Sunday afternoon and my turn
to kneel on the creaky yellow
kitchen step stool and bow
over the sink, unspool my locks
into the clean pool, the white
enamel basin. Two rust eyes blink
from the bottom. I bend my neck
for Mother's blessing. I might be clay.
I might be dough. Her pulsing
soap-slicked fingers sink and knead.

Later the poems become more nostalgic for the childhood of the past, with memories of summer camp and lifeguarding. The 4th of July parties and the man all the girls giggle and blushed for. It was fun to read “Swim Meet” since my daughter is a swimmer and has a number of these competitions in all-year round. There’s that moment of realization in this poem that the narrator will not be the best on the team, but the beauty of the swim and the burn of the exercise is something that is seared into her memory: “streaks through blue, the kick-/stroke-surge through the wake/of the winter’s churn.//”

Winter at a Summer House by Mary Beth Hines is introspective in its look at a life that is evolving and moving forward, even as we hope to hold all of our memories close. The final poems may make you weep with sadness as the family faces the passing of loved ones and the closing of the summer house. Another chapter has closed, but the ghosts slip out into the swells of the sea on their next journey, just as the narrator will do.

RATING: Cinquain

Photo Credit: David Mullen

About the Poet:

Mary Beth Hines grew up in Massachusetts where she spent Saturday afternoons ditching ballet to pursue stories and poems deep in the stacks of the Waltham Public Library. She earned bachelor of arts in English from The College of the Holy Cross, and studied for a year at Durham University in England. She began a regular creative writing practice following a career in public service (Volpe Center, Cambridge, Massachusetts), leading award-winning national outreach, communications, and workforce programs. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction appear in dozens of literary journals and anthologies both nationally and abroad. Winter at a Summer House is her first poetry collection. When not reading or writing, she swims, walks in the woods, plays with friends, travels with her husband, and enjoys life with their family, including their two beloved grandchildren. Visit her online.

Challenges While Photographing for Poetry: Himalayas by Jon Meyer, author of Clouds: love poems from above the fray

Today’s guest post is from Jon Meyer, author of Clouds: love poems from above the fray, which is a available digitally or as a coffee table book.

Here’s a little more about the book:

Clouds: love poems from above the fray features beautiful black and white photographs from around the world, paired with Jon’s reflective and inspirational poetry and stories behind the photographs. One such story explains the unforgettable experience behind Jon’s photo of a small plane surrounded by the snow-capped Himalayas in Nepal:

After sitting in the tiny airport in Pokara, Nepal for 5 hours, I started to get restless. We still had not taken off to fly up into the Himalayas.  So, I asked a man wearing a pilot’s uniform when we would board and take off. “When I can see blue sky,” he replied, “because in Nepal, the clouds have rocks in them.” (Jon Meyer, 2022) (#21)

Please give Jon Meyer a warm welcome:

Photography for use with poetry requires patience, sometimes requiring hours of waiting for the right light or having a cloud in the right place, or even the position of a cold midnight reflection.

Traveling to take a photograph can be a macro or micro adventure. The micro may be just walking around the corner or into a nearby forest. A macro adventure sometimes requires visiting a new country, learning about new (to me) cultures, or finding places that illustrate previous writing. Capturing the right image may require climbing mountains, flying to remote destinations, trudging through mud or snow, riding in a car on a steep mountain road without guard- rails and having the brakes fail, or even barely avoiding an avalanche.

The latter experience occurred when trekking in the high Himalaya and taking photos of their magnificent snow- covered peaks. The tiny villages along the Annapurna Circuit trek in Nepal are basic. The most prosperous of the small dwellings are made of carefully placed stone, and some are covered with whitewash. At the time that I was there, my guide and I stayed overnight in hut/ homes with minimal heating that consisted of a cooking fire inside, and most villages at altitude did not have electricity nor running water. The villagers were always welcoming and gracious with Namaste greetings to all strangers. We were happy to take shelter from the night’s wind and cold. The views of the ice- covered Himalayan peaks remain unsurpassed. Homes are now starting to acquire solar for lighting and essentials.

We passed by the prayer flags in the cover photo for Clouds on our trek up toward Thorong La, the world’s highest pass at 18,000 feet (over 5,400 meters). That morning, we had a good start before dawn, and by 10 AM we were well above the tree line at 16000 feet in a steep valley. Above us to the left was a peak with a sheer, high degree inclination, and on that smooth stone face was a thick ice field extending down from 26,000 feet to just above the rock- strewn trail we were scrambling on. The continuous ice was more than a mile wide.

By this time of morning, the strong sun was out with scattered clouds, similar to those in the photo. As we passed below the ice field, my guide and I both noticed the increase of water pouring down the smooth black mountain from below the ice field. It was really a rushing river. A shiver shook my body at the thought that in a moment the whole ice field could collapse, avalanche down, and cover the narrow valley we were in.

We looked for large boulders to crouch behind if the ice let go, but there were few with no guarantee that the ice wouldn’t roll them over us if we took cover there or back down the trail. So, we increased our pace but the altitude’s reduced oxygen made progress slower than necessary. With help from adrenaline, we pushed on and up. It was like a dream of running as fast as possible but still very slowly. When I was in High School, I ran sprints while on sports teams. The longest I could go was less than 30 seconds all out. This time, after 45 minutes of a maximum effort slow sprint and my repeating Love’s name with great intensity, we reached a point on the trail out of peril.

Just then I heard a loud crack, like a rifle shot too close to my ear. The ice field had let go, and cascaded down over the trail where we had just been. Since we were now ‘above the fray’ my stress and determination changed to gratitude. The Ancient One, Lord of the Mountains sent a lesson and a message, “Now that’s the way to remember Me always.”

Clouds: love poems from above the fray has been a project spanning more than four decades containing poems influenced by visiting many places, giving lectures, and witnessing beautiful vistas, in towns, cities, and above all, in nature. Over my career, I have been invited to speak at universities and cultural centers across the US and in a number of other countries, and I took photographs while in those places. Thousands of those photos are now in my archive. Hundreds of five- line quintain poems were written down, from which 64 were chosen for Clouds. These were then matched with photos in my archive.

Thank you, Jon, for sharing your poetry, photos, and stories.

About the Poet:

Jon Meyer has written for The Village voice, ARTnews, ARTS, New Art Examiner, Visions Quarterly, CRITS, Q, Dialog, Art New England, Fictional Café, and many more publications. As Department Chair, Meyer led a small team producing a film about one of his students, Dan Keplinger. This film, King Gimp, won the Oscar for best short documentary at the 2000 Academy Awards. Meyer’s work has been in 60 solo and group exhibitions (18 museum exhibitions) and 20 museum/public collections globally. He has received 12 grants, including a National Endowment for the Arts grant.

April 24, 4-6 PM: Local D.C. Event: Poetry Reading with Photopoetry by Gordana Gerskovic, Serena Agusto-Cox, and More

What: Poetry Reading with Photopoetry
When: Sunday, April 24 at 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Foundry Gallery at 2118 8th Street NW, Washington, D.C.

Two of my poems have been paired with Gordana Gerskovic‘s wonderful art. Come see the art and hear some great poems.

Also featured:

I hope that if you are in the area, you’ll drop by the poetry reading on April 24.

April 23, 4 p.m. EST: National Poetry Month Zoom Reading: Poets in the Blogosphere

I hope you’ll be available to register and listen in on Zoom on April 23 at 4 p.m. EST.

I’ll be reading with some fantastic poets from the blogosphere. I was honored to be invited.

Check out these wonderful poets:

The theme of this reading is There’s A Poem in This Place.

Two places to find contemporary poetry at its most vibrant are in the blogging community and at live readings. On April 23, 2022, from 4-5:30 PM ET, the two places come together when a select group of poets from the blogosphere present a live reading of their poetry at Poets in the Blogosphere.

Most poetry is meant to be read aloud, and hearing poets read their own work is a heightened experience.The event is moderated by Elizabeth Gauffreau. Please register in advance at https://tinyurl.com/Poets-in-the-Blogosphere #NationalPoetryMonth #blogpoetsread2022

Virtual Poetry Circle: Earth Day Poems

Hello everyone!

It’s National Poetry Month and in honor of April as Keep American Beautiful Month and Earth Day celebrations on April 22, I’m sharing one of my favorite poems about the beauty of our world. A little reminder to slow down and protect the only home we have.

The Thaw by Henry David Thoreau

I saw the civil sun drying earth’s tears —
Her tears of joy that only faster flowed,

Fain would I stretch me by the highway side,
To thaw and trickle with the melting snow,
That mingled soul and body with the tide,
I too may through the pores of nature flow.

But I alas nor tinkle can nor fume,
One jot to forward the great work of Time,
‘Tis mine to hearken while these ply the loom,
So shall my silence with their music chime.

There’s a sense of desire to be part of nature around him, a seeping of the human self into that seamless flow. But he can merely sit and marvel. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have that time to sit and marvel at it all.

Check out these other Earth Day poems:

Feel free to share your favorites in the comments.

Guest Post: Publishing Poetry by Kurtis Ebeling, author of Beneath Stretching Pines

Today’s guest post is from Kurtis Ebeling, author of Beneath Stretching Pines.

Here’s a little bit about the poetry collection:

Please give Kurtis a warm welcome:

Publishing a collection of poetry, even one as modest as Beneath Stretching Pines, was a rather extensive, drawn-out endeavor. Some of the 30 poems were composed and then published in journals nearly 3 years before I decided to compile and organize them, and a few others were composed within a couple weeks of the book’s publication. It is also important to note that these poems are, in many respects, an extension of my graduate studies at EWU—my studies of the modernist poets in particular. Thus, for better or worse, I have both teachers and academia to thank and/or blame for the inadvertent inspiration for these poems.

While Beneath Stretching Pines takes simple, modest subjects as its focus (trees, dead leaves, streetlamps, bedside windows, etc.), it is also at play with a somewhat complicated philosophical subtext. Namely, the poems in this collection are inspired by the epistemological, or meaning-
producing, relationship created between the self and the world as we experience it. I like to think that my poems use language in a way that collapses (and questions) the distinction between abstraction and the perceived world (selfhood and worldhood), and that, in doing so, they articulate self-expression in relation to self-effacement. They suggest that thought and the experienced world are, moment to moment, co-emergent and intertwined. To use a favorite metaphor of both W.B. Yeats and William Carlos Williams, these poems suggest that the material world and perceiving mind come together to perform a kind of dance, which, in this case, symbolizes sensory experience and abstract meaning making observation and thought active rather than passive. That said, I hope that my readers will interpret my work in other, perhaps more interesting, ways unique to their own thinking. My ideas about poetry can be—to my chagrin—deceptively romantic.

It is also very likely that I was slightly overeager to publish Beneath Stretching Pines when I did. While I am incredibly happy with the way this collection turned out, I do remember feeling like I needed to be free of these poems to continue writing new ones. Ultimately, the only difference additional time would have likely made is that this collection would have probably ended up longer. Nevertheless, there is a certain charm to its brevity. Beneath Stretching Pines is also my debut collection, so I wasn’t entirely conscious of the effort I’d have to put into marketing, post-publication, if I wanted to reach an audience outside of my friends and family. As time passes though, I am becoming more and more comfortable with its small, intimate audience. Art doesn’t have to find a home within the larger culture to be worthwhile—its creation is an accomplishment either way. Of course, a large part of me would like to find a larger audience, which is why I continue searching for places like Savvy Verse & Wit to promote my work.

Opportunities like these are always exciting.

Thank you, Serena, for extending this opportunity, and thank you readers for spending time with the words I’ve strung together!

Thank you, Kurtis!

Please take a moment to read a sample poem from his collection:

A Willow

A willow—limbs cracking under
grayish white bark and hunching
under gravity (somewhere between
consciousness and sleep)—shrugs

in early spring: where breath flows
in woody veins. Behind the guise
of death—undressed by winter,
touching spears of grass—there is

a small kind of hidden horizon:
a small kind of scene.

Curling from some central stem,
an entangled mess of branches
sway with the subtle breeze; sunlight
colors in yellow and clarifies 
what little we get to know
before dying: what little we get
to see without undressing.

This poem speaks the beauty of nature and the many unknowns we face in the shadow of death.

Guest Post: Poetry Writing Tips from a Published Poet by D.L. Heather

Today’s guest post is from D.L. Heather, author of Life Interrupted. Here’s a little about the book:

Life Interrupted is a powerful and intensely moving poetry book of one woman’s journey into a life of chronic pain-and the unyielding resilience of the human spirit. D.L. Heather’s collection of poems takes you on a journey through living with chronic pain, healing, self-discovery, inner strength, and personal transformation. A journey through powerful feelings that grow from seeds and change into blooming flowers.

Please give D.L. Heather a warm welcome:

Ever wondered how to write a poem? For writers who want to dig deep, composing verse lets you sift the sand of your experiences for flickers of light and insight.

If you’re tempted to try your hand at a few verses but you’re not sure where to start, keep reading this blog by haikuist author & poet D.L. Heather.

Start with an idea

Don’t force yourself to write your poem linearly, from the first line to the last. Instead, start with an idea your brain can latch onto as it learns to think in verse.

Your starting point can be a word, a line, or a phrase you want to work into your poem. It might be a vivid picture floating around in your mind. It can be a complex feeling you want to execute with precision, or a memory that you can’t seem to let go of. I think the most powerful poems give voice to something true about the human experience and help us look at everyday experiences in new and exciting ways.

Think of your starting point as the why in your poem, what’s your motivation for writing it?

Mind Mapping

Now that you’ve got a starting point, it’s time to put fingertips to the keyboard or, if you’re old school like me, pen to paper. Before you write out verses, take some time to look deep into the feelings, imagery, or theme at the centre of your poem.

Take as much time as you need and write anything that comes to mind when you think of your initial idea. You can draw your mind map by hand, add bullet points, jot down words, form brief paragraphs. The purpose of this mind map isn’t to produce an outline, rather to gather raw material to draw upon as you draft your poem.

My advice, don’t censor yourself. Overthinking or mentally grumbling will drive you crazy! “This line will never make it into the final draft”? Tell that inner critic to be quiet for now and just keep writing. You just might refine it down into a witty, poignant line.

Choosing your style

Once you’re happy with your mind map, look at what you came up with. Chances are, you’ve got one beautiful mess: sentences that trail off or change structure midway. That’s okay! Don’t beat yourself up! I promise you, there’s a poem in there somewhere.

You’re going to take your creation and sculpt the hell out of it. You will figure out what kind of shape you can make out of it — whether it’s naturalistic, free flowing or restrained.

Will you write free verse, or do you prefer following more traditional “rules,” like rhyming poetry or the syllabic constraints of tanka or haiku? Even if your words beg for a poem without restrictions, like free verse, you still have to know the tone and texture of the language of your poem.

Read… Read and Read Some More

A poem isn’t like reading a novel: you don’t have to spend hours upon hours researching to write a wonderful poem. Although, reading poetry of any style can keep you inspired throughout the writing process, especially if you’re feeling stuck.

Say you’re writing a sensory rich poem about a toxic relationship between a married couple. In that scenario, I would recommend reading some key imagist poems, alongside some poems that sketch out complicated visions of relationships.

Choose a poem that speaks to you and:

  • Find examples of simile and metaphors
  • Look for other senses than sight
  • Come up with questions and try to answer them
  • Try to analyse what emotions it stirs in you

Write for yourself

With an idea, a mind map and some inspiration under your belt, it’s time to draft your poem!

After all the exploratory thinking, you’re ready to write. But the pressure of actually producing verse can still cause self-doubt and anxiety. I suggest writing for yourself, at first, to take some of that pressure off of you.

I wholeheartedly believe that as writers, songwriters, poets, novelists that we can determine the validity of our success if we start by writing for ourselves. Personally, my life has certainly changed through the years. By certain lines, I’ve had the bravery to think of and then write — and those moments are when I’ve most felt like I’ve made it. Most of those lines in those first drafts were for my eyes only, and they were the most poignant.

As the first draft comes together, treat it like it’s meant for your eyes only.

Read your poem out loud

A memorable poem doesn’t have to be beautiful on paper: maybe a flowing, melodic prose isn’t your aim. Though it should come alive on the page regardless of your style. To achieve that, always read your poem out loud — at first, word by word, line by line, and then all together.

Trying out every line against your ear can help you weigh out a choice between synonyms. Reading out loud can also help you hear line breaks that just don’t fit. Is the line too long? Does it force you to speed through it? Do you want to give your readers some time to take it all in and give them room to breathe?

Take a Breather

By now, you’ve successfully written your first draft. It may not be perfect, but you should be proud of yourself – you’ve written a poem! Congratulations!

Now it’s time to step away and take a breather. If you’re like me, you’ve probably read out loud every single line so many times that all meaning has leached out of the syllables. So take some time off, go for a walk, catch up on some reading, or start your next writing project. Then come back with a fresh set of eyes because trust me, you’re not finished, not just yet — you still have to do revisions.

Revision Time

Revising poetry is a process that requires word play and loads of patience. Don’t beat yourself up if it’s not coming together how you imagined it. Take your time. Have fun with it! Your poems will grow and evolve. For me, my revision process is much like my brainstorming and writing process. I find a quiet place where I can be alone with myself and really listen to how I’m feeling at the moment.

About the Poet:

D.L. Heather is the pen name for poet, writer, and former music journalist Debra Heather. She has a B.A. in English and is the author of the inspirational poetry collections; Life Interrupted and Metamorphosis. Debra was born on 04 December 1978 in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, and now resides in Detroit.

Writing came into her life in her teens by way of therapy and the exploration of healing through journaling. Her writing is motivated by her experiences with childhood trauma, love, loss, healing, heartbreak, and self-discovery.

A private person by nature, she prefers to let her work speak for itself, in the way poetry allows her to. She hopes to inspire others and reinforce the fact that you are not alone.

When she isn’t writing in her studio, she enjoys traveling, reading, movies and gardening. Her current book, Metamorphosis: Extended Edition, will be available December 21, 2021. Connect with her on Instagram @dlheatherpoetry