Writing longer poems. Writing poems in parts. Writing poems that thread different subjects into one cohesive unit. These are often things I think I should be trying to do – I naturally write short (between 14 and 32 lines) and whenever I try to “unnaturally” write into them, stretch them out, they seem to be too self-aware and bloated to sound like me.
At times like this (today was one of those times, as many of the poems I read in recent issues of favorite journals were long by my standards), I often reach for the poems of Kay Ryan. Many people know her as the poet laureate from 2008-2010. I know her as the best poetic reminder to KISS – keep it simple, stupid.
Her poems are graceful, elegant…and SHORT. They often include elements of rhyme, which I do not often attempt but admire when done well. One of my favorites is from her book Say Uncle:
Too much rain
In the hills giant oaks
fall upon their knees.
You can touch parts
you have no right to-
places only birds
should fly to.
This simple three-sentence poem has layers, including the title’s significance. There is majesty in a tree, especially the aptly chosen oak, and being able to touch a part of what is mostly inaccessible to humans also hints at something divine. The poem can be read literally – when a tree falls, you CAN touch parts of it that would normally be off limits – but it can be read in many other ways as well. And it reminds me that a short poem is not necessarily less complicated or interesting than a long one.
If you want to write:
1. Write a three-sentence poem where the title helps create layers of meaning.
2. Write a poem that incorporates both rhyme and a natural image.