It wasn’t until my sophomore year in high school that I started to understand the power of words.
Poetry I and II with Mrs. Petersen changed my life. My decision to enroll in the class came about from a combination of wanting to get out of a harder English course and my then budding interest in poetry. But mostly the latter, since I always enjoyed English class and was that one kid who actually (gasp!) read a book during reading period.
The first thing Mrs. Petersen required of us was to have our own poetry notebook. Every day before class she gave us a color or a word or an object and would tell us to write for ten minutes. After ten minutes, you could either keep your poem and thoughts to yourself, or share it with the class. At first, I wanted to write a poem about every subject Mrs. Petersen gave us, off the top of my head, every last word rhyming with the one prior. That was my idea of poetry then- it had to rhyme and it came about automatically, something anyone could do, like “roses are red, violets are blue.”
The more I wrote, the more I realized that poetry was just another way of expressing one’s thoughts and feelings. In a short time, poetry became an outlet for everything I kept inside. Soon one poetry notebook turned into three, plus countless other notepads I carried around with me. I had the writing bug. My obsession lead me to do some pretty weird things. Picture in your head, if you can, me stopping in the middle of a walk to school in college, swinging my backpack around and frantically scribbling down words on a piece of paper as I walked. Still today, on nights when I can’t fall asleep, I start writing poems in my head. If it’s anything I think is particularly good, I’ll get up and write it down.
Thanks to Poetry I & II with Mrs. Petersen, poetry became a true art for me. I started to understand that the words were not just thrown around, that they didn’t have to rhyme, and that a true poet didn’t pick the subject of his work, but rather it picked him/her. If something inspired me and made me think, whether it was a water faucet or a washing machine, it was worthy of being my next subject. And in being my subject, the object the object was forever transformed to me.
Still, what makes a beautiful poem will depend on the reader.
For me, a good poem is well-thought out, the words carefully chosen and placed, but not so controlled as to appear rigid. It flows without rhyming, or it stops suddenly at a verse to make me think. Like a song, the poet leads me to read it the way he/she wants it read- the words manipulating my pauses, my breaths.
And although Poetry I & II taught me that poetry has some general guidelines, the best poet doesn’t necessarily need to kow or follow those guidelines. He/she just needs to knows how to utilize the power of words, how to put them together in a way that moves the soul, in a way that transforms the mundane into the extraordinary.
The power then it’s not the poet’s to have. It belongs to the words.
The best poets understand this, accept it,and most likely write a poem about it.