One day at the beach this summer, I had an itch to write poems. So I wrote eight. The only problem is, I don’t know how to write poems. What makes a poem “good?” Here’s two of them.
There’s more below the surface than you let on
Deep crying out to deep
Gathering up, pushing through, pulling back
Rhythm, chaos; constant, shifting
Toad-like with your legs
Fish-like with your fins
You are polluting our space with your death
If I were fishing I would likely catch you
And be disappointed
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night
with plans and the simple breath
that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Excessive wordiness has always rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve never been the sort of person who exceeds the length parameters of a writing assignment, unlike many of my students who ask questions like, “Will you take off points if I write MORE than 4-5 sentences?” I don’t know how to answer that. I usually just give a moderately annoyed look, sigh, think for a minute and say, “No…I won’t…but you should be able to answer that question in 4-5 sentences.”
I’m a believer in the beauty of brevity. Maybe that’s why I enjoy poetry; its tightness expresses miles in a matter of feet.
The Wild Rose
Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart.
Suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,
and once again I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before.