One of the reasons I took up writing poetry in the pandemic is because I’m not a baker.
The sour dough starter trend that swept a world on lockdown two years ago—a world desperate for distraction from a 24x7 virus news cycle driven by ever-changing theories, rising death tolls, and naked fear—was a trend I knew was not for me. Up to that point in my life, I’d demonstrated expertise only in frozen pizza preparation. Well, my scrambled eggs aren’t bad, either. The secret to a zesty scramble? Pepper jack cheese slices, that I tear into pieces and drop into the egg mixture as it cooks. Yum.
But, baking bread? No thank you.
So, while several friends donned aprons and jumped into the bread trend with both feet—and both hands—I turned back to my writing to distract me from the news. I’d been writing creative nonfiction (CNF) essays for three years when the pandemic arrived, and was maybe 50,000-words into a draft of my memoir manuscript. I enjoy narrative writing as I plumb the depths, look for braiding opportunities, connect how my understanding of the world and my place in it needs to uncover a universality that will draw readers in. I like seeing what emerges from the quiet moments. I know this much about myself, at least in this point of my writing journey. I have no urge to try fiction. (Yet.)
I might have said the same thing about poetry but then the pandemic crept in, a silent mist that blanketed our world overnight. We couldn’t see it, it wasn’t something concrete we could feel, like a blast of heat or a cold front. We couldn’t smell it or taste it or touch it, but it shook us to our core and challenged our sensibilities. The pandemic made many of us reassess what drives us. What brings us joy.
Some looked for answers in sour dough loaves. Others took up knitting or container gardening or podcast listening or language-learning on tape. Many left jobs in droves. I turned to poetry. Though fiction held no appeal for me, poetry felt like something I needed at that point in time. A balm.
I’d never tried it, formally, and signed up for a six-week online class. I pushed aside intimidation in my first week as I dove into a poetry primer on meter and enjambment. I learned the difference between haiku and haibun, wrote my first sonnet and my first villanelle, and discovered a new love: the prose poem. What I enjoy most about prose poetry is that it feels like a first cousin to CNF. It abandons the need for conventional poetry hallmarks like lineation, meter, and enjambment. Prose poems read more like the narratives I was already writing—just in hyper-short form. Usually, one paragraph, and packed with poetic punch.
I came away from my six-week class with three prose poems, two sonnets, a villanelle, and a haibun under my belt. I continued writing and editing new work after the class ended, and submitted a few of my poems to literary journals. I was thrilled when several were published, including both sonnets I’d written in class.
The biggest confidence boost came when one of my prose poems appeared in Welter’s Fall 2021 issue. In their congratulatory acceptance, the poetry editor told me my piece was one of only 20 poems they selected from more than 1,000 submissions!
My greatest discovery? In the year that passed since that online class, I’ve seen how poetry has elevated my narrative writing through sound and imagery. Poetry changed how I write my essays. I also went through my memoir draft and rewrote passages with an eye for poetic possibilities.
I admire how poems must quickly establish a connection between writer and reader because of the form’s economy of words. I may have the luxury of writing 3,000 or 4,000 words to explore my points in a CNF essay, but with poetry it’s the challenge of capturing experiences and feelings in full arc through spare but layered language that I love and want to continue practicing.
Poetry awakened in me a love for lyricism, along with a set of reminders—more sound, stronger and more unique visuals, fewer words!—that I’m using to strengthen my narrative writing.
My venture into poetry was a wonderful development that emerged from seeking new creative outlets in a strange time of quiet, worldwide. It may not taste as good as a warm loaf right out of the oven, but it feeds the soul, nonetheless.
Tell me, what are your favorite writing “tools” that challenge or elevate your work? Did you embrace something in the pandemic that fed your creative pursuits?
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