Getting Comfortable With Poetry: Fun With Words

Let’s be honest. Poetry can be intimidating. Most of us might appreciate listening to a good poem or reading a poetry anthology, but how many of us feel comfortable enough to call our own words ‘poetry’? If the idea of writing poetry makes you balk, shiver or want to cry, stick with me. Together, we’ll get you writing some poetry. Will it be good enough for that local poetry slam? Who cares?! Will it represent you and your thoughts, feelings and observations? Absolutely!

I am by no means an accomplished poet. I’m not even a good poet. Most of my poetry lives inside birthday cards given to family and friends. Here is a fine example:

Roses are red.

Daffodils are yellow.

Happy Birthday to you.

You’re a very fine fellow.

Seriously. That’s the kind of poetry I usually write. That doesn’t stop me from loving the idea of poetry, the potential of my words if I don’t criticize, if I just write. My words can illuminate and share my inner feelings. They can cast a light on my joy, contentment, pain and heartache. My words can paint a picture in the mind of what I see, touch, hear and smell. My words can bring to life my experiences, help others understand what it’s like to be me. My words are powerful, and so are yours.

When I taught my daughter to write poetry, I started by reading some of my favorite poetry books. I almost always start anything with a book. One of the books that we read together was Out of Wonder, by Kwame Alexander with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth. Out of Wonder is a fantastic poetry anthology featuring poems about poets.

Watch the video below to hear my thoughts on this book and listen to me recite (probably badly) my favorite poem in the collection:

After getting our start reading poetry, my daughter and I felt ready to try our hand at writing our own poems. I asked M to try mixing her usual words and phrases with what I call ‘poetic language’. These are words that are descriptive, beautiful, colorful. They are words that use language to paint a picture, just as surely as a brush can. Here’s a bit of what she came up with (click to enlarge):

M did really well with poetry. I hesitated. I’ll be honest, I’m still not all that comfortable with poetry, but our attempts, our poetic experiments, really took off when we read Jabberwalking by Juan Felipe Herrera, the 21st United States Poet Laureate. This book is fantastic and so unique. I’ve honestly never read anything like it.

Jabberwalking covers a lot of ground, including autobiographical prose. The main premise, however, is that we can all write. We can all be poets. Herrera suggests having a Jabber journal. This is a handy notebook that you carry with you as you walk, jotting down what you see, hear and feel. You can write however you wish, single words, descriptions, or sketches.

“Your burbles are going to become a Seismic & Crazy Epic Poem!” he writes.

Herrera tells us not to worry about where we’re walking or what we’re looking for. “{T}he Poem, the burble, does not want to know were it’s going or even what it is saying.” And don’t worry about legibility or misspellings. You won’t be able to read everything you wrote. That’s okay! When you get home, decipher what you can. Play around with your words and pictures. You can move things around, like Ramon did in The Word Collector. You can add new words. This is how poetry happens. Have fun with it!

“Give your burbles SHAPE (simply move the words around into fun groups)”

“A Jabberwalking poem […] loves to […] BE FREE”

Obviously, I’m messing with Herrera’s words here. I’m cutting things and paraphrasing. There is no real way to replicate what he’s written, so you just need to read it for yourself. The style and content are totally worth the read (read it aloud, I’d suggest). Everything, from the illustrations to the typography, influences the feel of the book. I think you’ll be inspired to try Jabber journaling and poetry writing for yourself. M keeps a Jabber journal in her backpack and one at home, though she hasn’t been using them as much lately. Time to read the book again, I think!

In the video below, you’ll hear my brief thoughts on Jabberwalking, then go on a Jabberwalk with us. Be prepared…it was windy…and we are not professionals!

Gently Guided Activities

Poetry Activity #1 Check out a few poetry books from the library. Try the two I’ve suggested, or choose whatever strikes your fancy. Read the poems, preferably aloud. Take note of the kinds of words that jump out at you. Jot down words or passages that you particularly like or that inspire you. Could you make a poem by using a series of words that you collect from different poems or books? Write a list of your favorite words from a few different books. Rearrange these words until they sound interesting to you.

Poetry Activity #2 Inspired by the poem I shared from Out of Wonder in the first video, try to write a poem about a normal moment in your day. Observe first and take notes. What do you see, hear and smell when you’re brushing your teeth? What about when you’re eating lunch, out for a walk, waiting for the bus or watching tv? Tell us about it through your words. Write it into a poem. Not happy with what you’ve got? Try moving the words around. Does it sound better or worse? Keep trying.

Poetry Activity #3 Start your own Jabber journal. A small notebook that is easy to carry with you would be best. Start walking and writing. Do this alone, with a friend, or with your child. Don’t worry or think too much. Just write down what stands out, what you notice. Learning to be observant is hugely beneficial as we learn to harness our creativity. The words that you write can be turned into poetry or saved for inspiration. It’s up to you. As Juan Felipe Herrera reminds us in Jabberwalking, it doesn’t matter if you can read every word, it doesn’t matter if you’ve spelled everything correctly, it doesn’t matter if you have words or pictures. Just get your observations down, get them down quickly, before you have time to question your own thought process.

How confident are you with poetry? Share a poem in the comments or on my Bonnythings Creative Facebook page. If you try the activities, I’d love to hear how they go!