Poetry in E-motion
by Jackie Houchin
Jackie is a retired photo-journalist, a book reviewer and blogger. She loves to travel, to read (of course), and has a favorite, very intelligent cat named Story (what else?). She is involved in her church ministries for children and the elderly and admits to being a “sinner saved by God’s grace.”
Several years ago I took a creative writing class at Glendale Community College, hoping to develop my skills in fiction writing. I was disappointed to discover in the first ten minutes of class that the instructor, Bart Edelman was a poet and that poetry would be the main thrust of the class.
I confess I’m not a fan of poetry, perhaps because I don’t know how to write it or read it. Rhyming verse, as in hymns, ballads and old Rock ‘n Roll songs, is fun, understandable, and easy, but all that “free verse stuff” (often without punctuation and capitalization) seems like words scattered on the page without thought or purpose.
I considered dropping the class, but in the end, I decided to endure. Maybe I would learn something.
Mr. Edelman soon had us learning about the types of poems – Italian, Elizabethan and Shakespearean sonnets, haiku, tercets, ballads and such. We reviewed meter, construction, and how to “cheat” by contracting words.
In each session our homework assignment was to write a poem to the exact standard we’d learned, submitting all our notes and scribblings to show our process. I picked up a couple books on rhyming words and grudgingly got to work.
Surprisingly I began to enjoy the task. I’ve always been a lover of words, and to see them coming together from the hidden recesses of my mind to form beauty and sense amazed me. I saw character, setting, description, even dialogue. Huh! And I found that as I wrote the poem, hidden emotions – hurt, anger, sorrow – came out on the paper. I read it and had to acknowledge the truth I’d written. Whoa!
Edelman made me rewrite that first poem titled “Change of Face” four times, but in the end I got an “A-” on it.
Sonnets with their strict meter and line placements appealed to me. And again, as I wrote and rewrote lines and thoughts, the beauty of the words amazed me. Humor and entendre also surfaced. Wow!
I wrote a sonnet about my work as a photographer of civic light opera productions, titled “Drama, Focused and Exposed.” Can you guess the three Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals?
In gauzy fog beneath the ancient stage,
The masquerading maestro longed to own
Christine, his light and life. But now in rage
He damns his love. She’s gone and he’s alone.
A requiem, a funeral most grim.
But Argentina’s eyes must cry no more.
A comet flaring fast then growing dim,
A queen, a saint, belov’d, adored… a whore.
The chosen son – among his brothers loathed –
In rainbow hues paraded, dreamed, advised.
From Potiphar and prison cell, unclothed;
He rose like worshipped sun, adorned and prized.
These images through lens; my claim to fame!
With help, of course, from the Sir-What’s-His-Name.
I wrote a Terza Rima Tercet titled “Rude Awakenings” which came from some deep emotions of disappointment, danger, and disillusionment.
A candy bar, a car; his tools to stalk
A sweet young girl. She smiles and reaches…“No!”
They cry, “With strangers you must never talk!”
A tender boy, experimenting, slow.
(He loves me true. He’ll marry me. He will!)
A plunge; I cry! He smiles and leaves. I know.
An angry boy, a son not mine, but still
I welcome him and offer help and love.
Rejection. Threats! Then me, he tries to kill.
Apologies, in recognition of
his infidelities, to her he brings,
And candy too, and gems…but not his love.
The final day, collecting all his things.
“We’re downsizing,” they’d said. “Now take a walk.”
“Oh… here’s a watch for your retiring.”
When we came to Haiku – those weird 5 – 7 – 5 syllable lines – I wrote about a 65 year old memory of my father’s death titled, “Daddy’s Demise.” I actually remember reaching on tiptoes into the casket and touching his cold hard hand.
On tiptoes views him, reaches—
touches death’s cold hand.
Tears of grief squeezing
From a child’s eyes; bitter juice
pressed from unripe fruit.
Clods of earth; humans
Long returned to dust, welcome
box and body home.
Autumn’s crimson leaves
Drip like blood, blanketing earth—
Quilts warming the dead.
Like evening tides
eroding sand castles; life
fades from memory.
Okay, I know that was sad! I also wrote a 35 line ballad based on the colorful life of someone I knew – but I won’t include that here. I had SUCH fun with that one!
The poem – an Italian sonnet – I am most proud of, which was also included in the college literature book that year, tells of my personal emotions about my boys growing up and leaving. It’s titled “Empty Nest.”
Flown far from home my offspring; eagles now,
Were embryos and hatchlings; homely, plain,
Then fledglings yearning for the sky. “Unchain
Us Mom,” they begged, then fled my homey bough.
First came the empty chairs at meals, (Oh, how
I missed their narratives of pain and gain!)
Then girls arrived, and cars and wives to claim
My boys. Now men, with rows their own to plow.
But all’s not lost. There’s peace and calm once more,
And rooms reclaimed and far less work to do.
There’s time for hobbies, gardens and decor.
And wives become new daughters. Furthermore,
There’re children, grand and great, and one more due.
Returned; the progeny of those I bore.
I got A’s on all these poems, often with an “excellent!” following. I thought I’d aced the class with a solid “A,” then Edelman pulled me aside. He couldn’t give me an A in class, he said, unless I wrote a free-form poem.
Ugh! Just when I had begun enjoying the form and beauty of constructed verse, I had to let it go, throw words willy-nilly on the page and hope they passed the test.
For inspiration our instructor showed a film in class about a young Jewish boy hidden in a Swiss school during Hitler’s reign of terror. Goose-stepping soldiers eventually found him and…. well, the atrocities I saw burned in me and eventually came out on paper in my poem titled, “Reparations.”
Perhaps it’s not the free verse poem Edelman expected, but I noticed he cringed and squeezed his legs together as he read it. Raw emotion, unrestricted by order and form can be strangely cathartic.
Shall I include it here? I might get some backlash. Oh well, here goes.
Kill them slowly…
all of them arrogant
in their Aryan race and place.
Kill them slowly…
coldly wrenching gold teeth
from bloody gums, greedily.
Kill them slowly…
Golden haired giants
gleefully blackening bodies
and bones of boys and girls.
Torture them, burn them,
peel skin from their backs!
Torment them, rape them,
rip babies from their bellies!
Pluck out their eyes
and teeth and hair and nails.
Castrate them! Punish them!
Forgive them slowly…
In their quest for purity,
they exterminated the brilliant and the wise.
In their depravity, they left the world
bereft of light and art and grace.
In looking for the “solution”
they sacrificed the sanctified;
the chosen ones…
Emotion, controlled in strict style or released just as it comes out, enriches writing in all genres. I still don’t write poetry as a rule, but the thing I learned is that beautiful (or terrible) images and emotions revealed in words is the substance of good writing.
I got that “A” in the class. I even got the job of taking Edelman’s author photo for the back cover of his book of poetry. (I made him look pretty good.)