A few weeks ago I blogged about my secret poetry list, the one that has been glue-sticked on the inside front cover of each new poetry notebook for over twenty years. The first part of the list was a bullet item of literary techniques, devices, and possibilities for those moments when you are stick in the middle of a poem and aren’t sure where to go. Below the list, I outlined a handful of themes (whose original source still escapes me) that might make good fodder for material, but in the weeks following I’ve been thinking that the list of themes might deserve some more face time. Consequently, if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to say a few more words about what these themes mean to me.
Beloved and Remembered Places. In writing, place is always particularly evocative. It’s always fun to write a poem about a place you love or hate or remember or wonder about or think about or–fantasy writers pay attention here–wish existed. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure dome decree:/ where Alph the sacred river ran/down to a sunless sea.” That’s place, baby!
Old and Present Times. There’s hardly a better theme for poetry than our memories. I often use my poetry as a form of diary. Many times my titles are places (“The Vagabond Inn,” “15 Miles to Phoenix,” “On Our Way To Daly City”) intended to remind me where the memory of the poem took place or simply to recall certain emotions or details associated with that memory. Of course, as the theme suggests, it is just as valid to write about something that happened yesterday. Or last night. Or this morning.
Contingencies That Look Like Destiny. When I see this theme, I am reminded of Robert Frost’s classic poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Much like Frost’s two roads that diverged in a yellow wood, this theme seems to be about writing about those moments of life that seemed inevitable, that transformed us, that ultimately shaped our life and our destiny, whether they seemed like momentous decisions at the time or not. Our poetry deserves such moments.
City Rain. Clearly, this theme is from the “write-about-what-is-right-outside-your-window-right-now” school of poetry. No matter where you are, you could look around and find twenty things to write a poem about. Here, at Starbucks at 6 in the morning, I could write about the cool jazz coming over the P.A. system, the silver sunrise peeking over the roof of the supermarket across the parking lot, or the clank and beep of the trash truck right outside the window. So why not the city rain? Write where you are. Right where you are.
Sundry Losses and Much Love. The yin/yang of this theme has always intrigued me. First of all, writing about loss is always a good idea because it’s universal; there is an instant identification factor: everybody’s experienced loss, whether it be a parent, a boyfriend or girlfriend, a pet, a locket, an earring or, to tweak the meaning of loss, a Wii game, our patience or, in my case, one’s mind. Poetry is an excellent way to deal with loss, grieving, and mourning. Beyond therapy, however, some of our pieces might also be good enough to send out into the world.
On the other hand, we have all also experienced much love and it is just as valid to write about those things in life that of which we are profoundly grateful: our children, spouses or other family members, that the Starbucks is open at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, or just that the sun has come up on another day, which is often poetry all by itself!
This list is one of the reasons I do not believe in writer’s block. If I look at these themes, no matter how crappy the stuff is that comes out of my pen or keyboard, I can’t help but have something to write about.
And it is my sincerest hope that the same will now be true for you.