Lines, Stanzas, and Sound, Focusing on the Craft of (re)Writing Poetry

In this draft of the working poem “A Slip of Pink Paper” (working title too) there are 13 stanzas.

3 Lines

Stanza 1, 10 and stanza 12.

6 Lines

Stanza 3, 5, and 7.

7 Lines

Stanza 4, 8, and 9.

Random Lines

Stanza 2 has four lines. Stanza 6 has nine lines. Stanza 10 has one line, stanza 13 has two lines.

Now that I have broken down the stanzas and the lines the big question is why? Not why did I count all the stanzas and lines, but why did I choose these line breaks? Right now the honest answer would be “a feeling“. I felt like that was where the breaks were for no rhyme or reason. No pun intended. And, if I’m being really honest with the work, there is no rhyme or reason to the stanzas or the line breaks, and that’s a problem. That is just one problem with the poem.

My Conundrum

Ideas come easy for me. I can pour out the words on a page like pouring a drink into a glass. I know for some people this is a real struggle. In fact, there are tons of sources out there with prompts set up to help writers, poets, or screenwriters to generate an idea. People need prompts to get them going, but fortunately I don’t need that. I don’t need an idea generator however, I do need help when it comes to everything else. I can splash paint onto a canvas, but what am I actually saying? I can also be as delusional as I want and tell myself it is amazing, a Work of Art ,and I can bust out as many writings as I can, post them up on instagram, publish my own book, dust the chalk off my hands, and call it a day. In one way it is kind of nice to be able to tell yourself you are naturally good at something, and ignore all “the haters” and the critics, or the silence. Yet, I don’t think it is about the outside voices. I think it is about your inner voice. My inner voice knows I am lazy when I just post some writing and call it a poem. I know I did not put in the work. I should be grateful for the idea because poets and writers work their asses off to craft a poem out of an idea they struggled to find. I am grateful, but it is disrespectful to the craft to not do the work. It’s like when you hike a mountain and reach the peak and see all the people who took the gondola lift. They smile and breath easy in their fancy clothes and non hiking shoes, taking pictures of the view that you worked so hard to see. This is okay of course sometimes you just want to take the gondola, but you shouldn’t pretend that you did the work, and you should understand that you missed some amazing beautiful things on the way up, and you may have learned something on the hike to make the next hike better and more beautiful. It’s cliché, I know, but the real reward is in the discoveries you make through the work. The reward is when you solved the problem, and the next time, you know more of what you are doing.

Yet, what if you don’t know what you’re doing? To keep with my current metaphor, what if you don’t know how to hike, or you’re out of shape? What if you don’t know what to pack, which way you’re going, how long it will take, which direction are you going, which path, to take? The conundrum comes after the words are on the page. Now what? How do I make it better?

I’m Not Going to Tell You What to Do

I’m not telling you what to do, but I can tell you what I am doing. I’m reading poems. I’ve heard from poetry classes in the past, and current things I’ve read that if you want to be a good poet, or improve your poetry, you need to read poetry. In the past I read a lot of poetry especially during my time as a literature student, oh so many years ago, but then I stopped. I needed to find a job. Writing wasn’t giving me money, and I didn’t think it would give me money; and money makes the world go round; and keeps food on the table; and the wolves from the door; and all the other idioms. Writing wasn’t going to do any of that for me. So, I stopped trying. I stopped trying to get better, but I didn’t stop writing completely. I did stop reading poetry though, and Netflix and Youtube became a greater part of my life. I think escapism is okay if you need a break, but if you’re unhappy because you aren’t doing what you dream, all escapism does is stop you from ever reaching your dreams. Netflix and other movie and show platforms can be a wonderful distraction from life and living, and so can Youtube, but Youtube can also be a great educational platform if used wisely. There is a lot you can find about writing poetry on Youtube, some good some bad, but you can find something. I happen to like Poetry Show and one one of the posts was a video called the Golden Rule. What is the golden rule of poetry? Read poetry. My own intuition verified via Youtube.

Reading Poems

I don’t have a lot of poetry books with me at the moment, but I do have a few. As I work on ” A Slip of Pink Paper” I’m reading Mary Oliver’s, Dog Songs. I bought the book for my husband because he loves dogs, and I happen to love Mary Oliver. She is a master of poetry and therefore a great poet to read. As I read beyond the enjoyment of the words, I am looking for her choices in line breaks and stanzas. I want to look for how she uses sounds from the words and language she chooses.

What I Have Done So Far

I’ve crossed a lot out. Don’t read, just look.

(1)Shoved deep into the bench seat
of an old Ford truck 
we found a kitten.

(2) The bench seat, like a black sofa,
leaned against the chicken coop.
We used to play house 
and pretend outside was our living room.

(3) It was dead, of course,
the kitten,
you can't stuff a body,
no matter how small,
between the stiff cushions 
of a Ford bench seat.

(4) Other animals had been found, recently
Cats, kittens, chickens, a mouse.
They said it was a coyote
or a fox
but how can an animal
stuff a kitten into an
abandoned black bench seat?

(5) There was that day when...
A porcupine attacked the dog.
The dog howled in screams
as men pulled her from the truck.
It wasn't a porcupine that killed the kitten.
This needed human hands.

(6) We ran home
to tell our mothers.
We climbed over split rail fences,
through dead and dying orchards.
across old rail tracks that once
transported swine, beef and grain,
but now the trains were ghosts
and the rails vanished into the

(7) We reached the farm house,
the white peeling paint revealing rot.
We'd lived there, but not long, two families without 
fathers, and many kids. Sometimes men
would visit. Some fathers. Some not. 
They'd bring beer.

(8) We were out of breath from running.
We heaved and pressed our palms against our knees.
Ma! we called. Ma! It's dead. 
A kitten! we called.
It was empty.
There were no mothers.
No fathers. no adults.

(9) Stapled to the door
A pink paper. Animal Abuse it said.
The animals were all gone.
The dog with the porcupine quills.
The cat missing kittens.
The puppies. The chickens.
All gone.

(10) A dust kicked up around our tired feet.
The pink paper waved in the breeze 
the tape held it to the door.

(11) A car was approaching from the distance.

(12) They would take us next
put us in foster homes
send us to strangers.

(13) Soon we forgot all
about the kitten.

I focused on the sound of the words. For example: I pulled out words that ended in “d” began with “d”. Died, down, found, abandoned. Peeling, revealing, pull, small, adult. Consonants and vowels. What did these collections of sounds do. What does shock sound like? How about surprise? Fear? Discovery? Swimming? Laughing?Then I took out all of the words and started over with the same idea, but told in a new way.

The Work in Progress

In its current form the poem is now ten stanzas, but the structure is still in the works. I’m happier with the language, but I have yet to find the shape. This is what I have so far:

Dust swirled about our bare feet 
as we kicked heels against
 the abandoned ford bench seat.

The chicken coop, empty of chicks, 
and large enough to be a playhouse was our living room, 
the dying orchard our t.v.

Through dry trees and sun-cured leaves
Beyond a battered split rail fence
We could see the once white house.

The line breaks and the stanzas are merely place markers at this point, but already I like the language better. I will change the title, once again, as I have removed all references to the pink slip.

One Last Note

It takes a lot of time and thought. It takes some pacing, some frustration, some thinking its going nowhere, but I’ll keep working, and one day it will tell me what it is really trying to say, and then hopefully you can hear it too.