So much information and writing wisdom is tucked in my little notebook from the conference last weekend. My favorite class was called “The Braided Poem” even though I don’t consider myself a poet. I am a person who sometimes writes poetry as a way to shake things up for my novelist self. A way to pay more attention to language and nuance. Reading great poetry helps, and so does writing some not-so-great poems.
If I am fortunate enough to teach creative writing again, I will use this method of creating a poem that I want to share here. My teacher was Christine Rhein, author of Wild Flight. She said right out that she did not come up with the concept of the braided poem, so it’s not like I’m stealing her idea. I think many of my poems are braided, just because it worked out that way. But to know there is a process fires up poetic imagination. Try it!
1. Ground the poem in a common experience you know enough about so that you can dig into it.
2. List everyday activities, then break those down into smaller bits.
Here’s an example from my list: Cleaning: silver polishing, cat box, closet. I ended up with 7 common experiences and had 3 or 4 specific kinds of the general activity. Lots to choose from.
3. This part is about emotional relationship issues, yours or someone else’s or imagined. The emotion can be joyous or devastating, an argument, a moment of peace, a death, a birth. Things that can be the emotional tie to the concrete activity in the first thread.
4. Brainstorm a list of names that have emotional resonance for you. I had a list of 14 names, with some comment after a few. Several of the names I came up with are people I already have written poems about.
5. Choose grounded common experience and person with emotional resonance. Write lines expressing both these things, not necessarily in a linear narrative form.
I surprised myself with this one, even though the person was the first name I came up with. It’s been an ongoing situation and brings up difficult emotions in me all the time. The common experience is my husband watching sports.
Here’s what I wrote:
Everyone left him, one by one
I watched this happen
While my husband watched sports.
“He’s laying on the lawn again” I said.
My husband, eyes glued to
hockey puck, football
swinging bat, does not reply.
“Is he drunk?” I ask, wanting an answer.
My husband shrugs, eyes on TV
We have lived next door to this guy for
25 years. First his wife walked out, then the
Kids, who left their dogs. One dog died
and we neighbors gathered in our common back yards
to grieve with him. Now his other dog has cancer
Neighbor and dog sprawl on front lawn,
Almost every day, his face in the crook
of his arm,
his other hand clutching the dog leash.
The dog isn’t going anywhere,
But the home team won.
Unlike my usual self, when she asked for readers, I put my hand up and read with no anxiety to the group. Her comment was to start with more action, like the neighbor laying down with his dog. I might try that, if I were a poet. I’ve been thinking about that. In a few years, when all my novels are out of my head and onto the page, maybe I will go back to poetry, ending up where I began. Also I have no idea why I cannot single space this poem. Because poems should be single spaced and Word Press should make it easy for poets to do that.
About the meaning of my poem. I’m concerned for my neighbor and my husband is not concerned for my neighbor or for me being concerned about my neighbor. The last line might not sound snarky but it is because I am not a sports person and my husband loves all sports, all the time. So there is a little bit of the unappreciated spouse in there. Doesn’t answer my questions.
Also, I don’t have a crush on my neighbor, not even close, but it seems so clear to me that he is lonely and sad and I wish he had someone to love him. Then I kind of juxapose that with my supposed someone who loves me but might love sports a little bit more. That’s unfair because my husband is a great guy. I know he loves me, and I feel lucky to have him. But I have these moments when I think “Why are good people who clearly would love a partner alone and then other good people who clearly wish their partner would shut up and make some nachos?” So there’s a little bit of that in there. We’re married 27 years. He takes me for granted sometimes and other times he is right there for me. I knew the sports deal when I married him. So did you get that from the poem?