by Miko Johnston
If you’ve read my biography, you know my earliest ambition was to become a poet. I began writing poems at age six, and continued until I discovered it wasn’t a mainstream career – I found no “help wanted” ads for poets in the New York Times classified section. Being a practical sort, I changed my goal, but I’ve been writing ever since.
I still remember the first poem I wrote. I actually sat down and evaluated it line by line, and found that I had good instincts about the process. I recalled how I’d spent time playing with the wording, the rhyming and the rhythm, which created imagery through words. I also found parallels with my current approach to writing.
Let me show you what I mean. The poem goes:
I went to the moon
One sunny afternoon
Where I saw a sight
That gave me a fright
A man from Mars
With green and purple scars
The poem rhymes because I felt at the time poems should rhyme. It has a rhythm as well, for the same reason.
The first two lines had come to me immediately. I liked the way they sounded, with a sing-song bounciness reminiscent of a good nursery rhyme. The sound of words, how they flow together and the rhythm they create when read, remains an important aspect of writing to me and something I always strive to attain. The lines also comprise the first third of the poem. They introduce the setting, the character, and launch the story, as a first act should.
I don’t specify how I got to the moon, whether I rocketed, incorporated some other form of transport, or jumped, but I don’t think it matters. Rather than fill in every detail, it leaves that to the reader’s imagination, which is still characteristic of my style
The next two lines bring in an element of tension through emotion, as well as the possibility of conflict arising from it. Fear can be very potent in motivating a character. These lines also comprise the middle of the poem, but the sudden change from the playful couplet that opens the poem grabs our attention. No sagging middle here, another goal in my writing.
The last two lines are, to me, the most interesting. Finding another “non-resident” on the moon is more curious than scary, which brings the poem back to the mood set in the opening. A good ending should always reference the beginning. I contemplated the Martian’s coloring for a long while. At least some of the scars had to be green, since that was all we knew about Martians in those days. I toyed with using red or blue for the second color – the rhythm would have matched better. Somehow it had to be purple, an uncommon color in the fifties, which made it exotic. And I decided I liked the hiccup effect it gave the rhythm, like going over a speed bump or pot hole. It jars you, which also fits the theme. It also leaves it to the reader to decide whether the Martian’s appearance was scary or humorous.
Is it a great poem? No, but come on, I was only six. If this were a story, it would be incomplete. I could have added more, but it does convey an image and an emotional response. I say it’s complete as is.
I don’t write much poetry anymore, except for an occasional musing on a subject or a haiku in a humorous vein. I like fitting an idea to a very specific and brief formula. I’ll share my favorite haiku with you:
FOR THE RECORD
Born in thirty-three
The math works out, but finding the right title was critical, as much for this poem as for a novel
As I consider my very first attempt at writing with the benefit of more than a half century of hindsight, I can see the roots of my development as a writer of prose.
For those of you who write, do you remember the first piece you wrote? How would you trace your development as a writer from that piece to today?
Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers in Residence, is the author of the historical fiction series, “A Petal in the Wind”, as well as a contributor to several anthologies including the recently released “Whidbey Landmarks”. Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org