I Remember I somehow forgot the way the world looks through the yellow canopy of our neighbor's tree, how golden filigree overlays the surrounding rooftops and patches of sky. I somehow forgot how autumn gusts create a ground blizzard of swirling color— dead leaves, still teeming with movement— and how strong, steady winds produce a rainstorm of gold against the clear blue sky, blurring and obscuring my backyard view. I somehow forgot how falling leaves can strike like tiny meteors— annoying me, then making me laugh, later, in wonder. I somehow forgot. I remember now.
When I think about writing a poem, I like to imagine a puzzle: the picture on the puzzle box is the feeling that inspired the poem, and the pieces inside are all of the words and poetic tools I get to utilize to recreate that feeling. When each puzzle piece converges to create the feeling I’m after, the poem is finished!
Of these poetic tools, the first one I often draw on is the use of sensory details. I carefully select words with the kind of connotation I’m interested in to depict the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the experience I’m recreating. These sensory details help craft the scene I want to portray for readers, bringing them into the experience and helping them feel what I felt. Paying attention to the connotation of words can add yet another level of meaning and feeling.
Connotation – “yellow canopy of our neighbor’s tree” The word “canopy” can refer to both a section of a tree as well as an ornamental cloth draped over a bed or throne. The word choice here helps add to the feeling of grandeur and awe.
Next, I tap into the musical qualities of the words I’ve chosen, playing with word order and perhaps altering word choice to create a repetition of sounds— think rhyme, alliteration, consonance, and assonance. These musical elements reach into a deep place in our hearts, creating feelings of harmony, pleasure, power. Paying attention to the stress of syllables and how they will roll off the tongue when read aloud can also be helpful to craft a specific feeling.
Alliteration – “Strong, steady winds”
Rhyme – “Blurring and obscuring”
Repetition – “I somehow forgot”
“When we compare two seemingly unlike things, it invites our readers to make powerful connections.”
Other poetic tools may seem rather boring, but when thoughtfully used, help promote the deep emotion of the poem. When writing poetry, I carefully think through my use of punctuation, for example. The length of my sentences and phrases, the way in which I connect ideas, my use of multiple commas or none at all—all of these are poetic tools that I can play with to create just the right feeling. When crafting a poem, I also have to decide where to turn the line; this creative choice allows me to emphasize certain words or ideas depending on where I break off one line and start the next. My decisions about spacing and stanzas also impact how readers will take in the poem visually. Finally, choosing a title, something that might seem basic, can serve to focus the readers’ attention, telling them what is important in the poem and impacting the emotional power of the work.
While I can’t go into every poetic device in this particular piece, I must make time for these last two game-changing tools: simile and metaphor. As I re-read the above poem, I realized I used these devices right and left!
Simile – “Falling leaves can strike like tiny meteors”
Metaphor – “golden filigree overlays the surrounding rooftops,” “ground blizzard of swirling color,” “dead leaves, still teeming with movement,” “rainstorm of gold”
My poetry mentor, David Schelhaas, would maybe say that metaphor is the defining characteristic of a good poem. I’m not sure I would go quite that far, but he definitely has a point. When we compare two seemingly unlike things, it invites our readers to make powerful connections. These comparisons and connections can provide a significant avenue to emotion.
“…seeing those leaves that were technically dead, seeing them swirl and dance with the wind, made me believe that maybe something new could be forming in me, too. Perhaps I would dance again.”
When I wrote this specific poem four years ago, I remember feeling astounded that I was 35 years old and noticing these fall scenes in my neighborhood for seemingly the first time. How could I have missed this? How could I have forgotten? How could this beauty and mystery be somehow new to me? So, I collected these images like pebbles in my pocket, and one morning a format for how to put them together just popped into my brain. For me, this poem ultimately represents a fresh start. A new beginning of noticing. A new path of poetry. My talents, passions, sense of meaning, and purpose—these had all been lying somewhat dormant for the last several years of living with chronic illness. But, seeing those leaves that were technically dead, seeing them swirl and dance with the wind, made me believe that maybe something new could be forming in me, too. Perhaps I would dance again.
David Schelhaas published a new poetry collection this year called Tongues that Dance,1 and this stanza from his poem, “A Very Short Dream,” encapsulates what I feel is at the root of inspiration:
We see God only rarely and then out of the corner of an eye when amazement shatters what we thought we knew of reality and rekindles our confidence that he is at the heart of everything. (16)
When we open our eyes to the possibility of wonder, I believe we will see God. And I believe we will be changed. That is what paying attention and writing poetry did for me, and what it continues to do.
Perhaps Kya Clark’s first sentence holds weight for me too: “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.” 2
I thought I could exist within concrete block walls and windowless offices. But I was wrong. I need wild things too.
This essay is part of the Fall 2021 exploration of “Making Meaning” at Dordt. We reached out to writers in our community to explore and interact with how they create meaning through words. In a culture where words can be quickly weaponized, how do we explore the beauty, truth, and gift of words? This is part of an ongoing series where writers interact with words and delve into Making Meaning through their written voice.
Part 1 of this article can be found here.
“When we open our eyes to the possibility of wonder, I believe we will see God.”