That's what poetry is; it's your vision of life.
~ Kim Addonizio
Readers of this blog who participate in our poetry jams on Twitter know how much fun it can be to try to write lines of poetry in 140 characters or less. They also know that the tweets that become poems — the "twoems" are edited by our colleague Glynn Young and posted to TweetSpeakPoetry — can be surprising and delightful. Some of us even use our individual sets of tweets to create original poems of our own.
During our poetry jams, we dream up our lines out of thin air and always to a constantly changing prompt, which might have its origins in a cookbook, tabloid headlines, lines of others' poetry, or somebody's idea. We have no advance warning and play off each other's tweets for an hour.
What we do at TweetSpeak is mostly for fun; none of us, as Glynn says, is waiting for reprint royalties on our twoems. Writing poetry by prompt, however, is an excellent way to learn how to write poetry by drawing on what surrounds us, influences us, or inspires us.
Kim Addonizio, who most recently published her fifth poetry collection, Lucifer at the Starlite: Poems (W.W. Norton, 2009), has written two instructional books on poetry-writing. One, The Poet's Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry (Norton, 1997 ), Addonizio co-wrote with Dorianne Laux. It contains many exercises, derived from writing workshops that Addonizio conducted with Laux, and addresses subjects for writing, the craft of writing poems (for example, use of metaphor, meter, and rhyme), and the "writing life" (for example, such topics as "writer's block"). The exercises help show how an embarrassing moment, the loss of a loved one, family life, a memory, a spiritual awakening, anything in fact can be embodied in a poem.
Addonizio's more recent book, Ordinary Genuis: A Guide for the Poet Within (Norton, 2009), expands on the content of the first, offering not only a wider range of writing exercises for getting started but also Addonizio's insights about poetic forms and structure, revising poems, exploring "creative vision", writing about love, loss, identity, and other life experiences, getting published, and dealing with rejection. In addition, Addonizio addresses use of the Internet and includes in the appendices online poetry resources, poems, and her recommendations for further reading.
Ordinary Genius "is a book about creativity. . . a book meant to inspire you, whoever you are, no matter your level of skill or ability", says Addonizio in the book's Introduction. Its ideas, she continues, "are meant to encourage you, challenge you, and lead you more deeply into your own life and poetic practice."
I especially appreciate Addonizio's admission that "it is as difficult to make a great poem as it is to make a great painting or blast out a virtuoso electric guitar solo. To understand poetry as an art is to understand that it is the same as every art, every discipline. It is work. . . ."
Whether you are just beginning to learn why poetry matters, seeking to better understand the craft of writing poetry, or are an experienced poet, you will find in Ordinary Genius something that will lead you to set aside your excuses and get busy writing.
Below is a video of Addonizio talking about her book. Worth reading is this interview with Addonizio, "Kim Addonizio: The Poet by Starlite", published in fringe (Issue 22, March 29, 2010). (My thanks to poet Diane Lockward who included the link on her excellent blog).