Sunday, April 2, 2017

National Poetry Eh Who Cares: Demystifying Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, and along with it comes many exhortations from the various poetry websites I frequent to write a poem a day, along with copious prompts. I’ve managed to complete the “Poem a Day” challenge here and there over the years with middling success, but haven’t had the drive or heart to do it for a while, and this year is no exception. At the same time, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why poetry remains shrouded in this weird veil of mystique, and is considered “inaccessible” by the majority of the public. To be fair, a heck of a lot it of is considered inaccessible because it is inaccessible—it’s written by poets, for other poets, who have had very specific training, education, and apprenticeship, and are working in a shared dialect inscrutable to most of us commoners. It’s also taught terribly most of the time, in a way that creates an early and pervasive sense of fear and suspicion about it. I don’t blame anyone for not liking it. I don’t even like of a lot of it. But it’s still one of my deepest loves on this planet. Nothing can move me more than a savagely beautiful poem.

So in the interest of demystifying poetry a bit, and to help you budding poets out there who suffer from crippling perfectionism, I thought that instead of hacking away at a poem a day, I’d be brave and publish some of my “poem scraps”. These are snippets—lines from work I’m trying to hone into polished poems, lines from poems that I started but that never came to fruition, and bits and pieces of  “fertilizer” that may come to grow into a poem someday, but for now remain barren. You can ask me anything about the work or about my “process” in the comment section, and I’ll do my best to answer…but to put it out there up front, a lot of my process involves, surfing Imgur as a distraction, and hitting my head on my keyboard to punish myself for how stupid and clunky my work is. The actual writing just sort of happens in the space between all of that. Alright, here goes:

Poem Scrap 1: The Poets (Or Why I Fear Reading at Poetry Nights)

I get invited to read my poems at poetry nights or events sometimes, a prospect which never ceases to intimidate the hell out of me. So I’m writing a poem to sort out my feelings about why always feel like the (literal) red-headed stepchild at these events:

The poets have more education than me. They drink in everything. They have bright beady eyes and they hear with their whole bodies, every organ. Their skin has ears and they tremble in response. They suck in words like a jellyfish absorbing nutrients from the sea. They shuffle and avoid eye contact, yet see with a terrifying clarity. They drop their papers and mumble and wince but oh how they hear, they hear. Even the unspoken. Even the unwritten. This is their essential nature, the way their bones are programmed, the acute antennae of their pores.

Poem Scrap 2: Untitled

My grandfather recently died, and I am still processing a great number of feelings and memories related to his passing. (Also, I like using the word “passing,” not because I’m trying to tiptoe around death, but because I choose to imagine him crossing a vast river to a more loving and gentle world.) One of my memories is of feeding the horses across the street from his house when I was but a wee scrap of a Typist. I’ve been working on this theme of apples and horses for a while now and haven’t been satisfied with the results:

At Grandpa's house, the horses had terrible teeth, and I took risks to feed them apples, crossing a treacherous street. I loved how the horses loped towards me, as though it were me they loved, a rail of a girl with trembling hands, holding out their snack. They honed right in with those industrious choppers and pulverized the fruit, core and all. I knew then the power of a decent snack Some years there was a different horse, and possibly a different girl but it didn't matter: Girl, horse or snack, it was all the same sweetness and bite.

There are no girls or horses or apples anymore, and it is right, and it is the order of things, that a house that cradled the heart of a family should be razed and sold for its soil, and that the last body left dreaming in its ribs was razed by age and weariness, and that the hand of that body was held in its last hours by those intimate with the loss of horses and apples. Cold hands grasping, a mind galloping towards a tiny figure offering him a honeyed orb.

Poem Scrap 3: A Small Selection of Deserts

A few months ago, I was planning a small event for work, and upon reviewing the catering menu, I saw that word “dessert” was misspelled as “desert.” This has stuck with me for some reason:

You can choose from the following menu options:
One protein, one starch, one vegetable, and
a small selection of deserts. Whichever desert you choose
will come with its own desolations: One gray and
lousy with ribcages, one too cold to sustain life, one
relentlessly scorching. One may stretch on in a merciless
bleakness, one may be riddled with derelict worms.

I haven’t gotten any further on that one yet.

Poem Scrap 4: Blood Fruit

This is from a poem I wrote from a visual prompt. Most of it doesn’t make any sense, but I do like this one stanza; I’m just not sure what to do with it:

I understand now why all of the mourning
for butterflies and shards. How a thing
once broken faintly stays that way, how
indelible the impact of: misfiled, misbegotten.

Well, I think that’s enough scrappiness for one post. If you like these, I’ll post more throughout the month!

--Kristen McHenry


Krumlov House said...

Love these scraps. The horses and apples one really stuck with me, for what it's worth. All of these scraps have your unmistakeable voice in them. I dunno. I kinda like just scraps. Why not just collect them all, number them, and let us readers figure out the untold narrative between them? Leading with "The poets" scrap could be a really good way to start it.

Kristen McHenry said...

Thank you, Krumlov House! I love your idea of collecting the scraps and just letting the readers fill in the gaps. That could actually end up being more engaging for readers than a completed, polished poem. Thanks for reading! I'll post more scraps next week.