Learning to be a poet

We learned how to write tanka poetry a few weeks back. A tanka poem is a traditional Japanese form of poetry. It follows a 5-7-5-7-7 syllabic pattern and can go on for a long time. We only stop once we reach infinity – that is, until we feel like we can’t get anything else out of the poem. Each stanza must transition effortlessly from the previous stanza.

As an exercise, we participated in a round robin. One person had to write the 5-7-5 section, the next the 7-7 section, and so forth. The cool thing about this lesson was that the poem’s topic could change at any moment.

Here’s the final product (the title certainly gives you an idea of the poem’s tone):

DAMNED

The bus climbs uphill,

Doors exhaling a goodbye.

The child waves back.

Yellow halts a sudden stop.

It’s time for another day.

 

To wither away

On Grandpa’s dusty brown porch

My brain is emptied

I have become my grandpa

Old–losing touch with myself.

 

Same one must save me

I drown in memories of

The times we would laugh.

Your scent swirls all around me

Please just stop this misery.

 

There is no way out

This retched world you live in

Will soon out-live you

So therefore: damned if I do

And then: damned if I do not

 

I pace the world’s edge

Look down–a long way to go.

Do I leave now?

I am free-falling into sky

Never has death felt so free

 

And liberation

Is what we say to ourselves

When we have a voice

And I just don’t have a voice

And so there’s no salvation.

It’s such a happy poem, right? I intended to make the poem sound optimistic (I wrote the first three lines), because my friends usually say I’m a dark writer. It wasn’t my fault that this poem turned out differently than I expected!

Anyways, I feel like I’ve definitely grown as an amateur poet. It helps to read some fine poets from the past. I also enjoy reading my peers’ work in our workshops. My professor tells me that I need to use poetry to explore and to let go. I found that writing approach hard at first; as a fiction writer, I always sketch out the narrative arc of my stories. I want to feel like I’m in control of the plot, the characters, the setting, etc. Because my stories are fictional, I write to explore other people’s lives, and not my own. That’s not what you should do in poetry.

After taking this poetry course, I’m beginning to understand what it means to “let go.” If I write something and it doesn’t sound like it “fits” in a piece, I shouldn’t put it in the trash right away. Perhaps that word or phrase came out of my mind for a reason. Maybe it needs its own poem. Recently I’ve been writing a lot of poetry about memories of my childhood and my family. Though only a few people have seen my poetry – and I don’t intend to ever attempt publication – I still feel guilty about what I’m writing, but it’s therapeutic at the same time.

I’m revising my poems for the final portfolio, and I might post a few on this blog! So stay tuned.

Time to Wake

Poem #1

I wake at the edge of the bed, wrapped in downy-scented Mickey Mouse blankets,

Arms pinned to my side.

I know I started out at the center, squished between Mom and Sister,

Who gave me warmth that only they could provide.

Mom’s lavender perfume sticks to my pillow.

The ceiling fan wheezes as its blades turn.

Outside, cars whiz by, and light wastes away, sinking into a hill.

The lullaby of ice cream suddenly beckons me—and already I reach for my piggy bank in my

Dresser, surrounded by a mess of underwear, glittery rocks, and sea-beaten shells.

But my hope gets crushed when footsteps burden the old stairs,

And Mom’s hushed voice echoes in the hallway: Con, xuống ăn cơm.

I inhale an errant waft of fresh rice.

***

I am the youngest in my family.

Every day I waited for An and Dan to come home from elementary school. Living in a small apartment, the three of us shared a room. My mother would combine all of our beds and we’d take naps together. I remember feeling so safe during this time, surrounded by my family, and I never wanted to leave. I was always the last one to wake up, and I’d lay in my bed and listen to the whispers of activities going on around me, which soothed me like a mother’s lullaby. 

We had to write about a specific place in our first poetry assignment. I couldn’t find one that stuck out to me, so I thought of the times when I felt comforted and loved: in my bed in Apartment Four on Scott Road – back in the old days.