Poetry as reflection

 In Poetry


 In the last post we talked about memories, and how they can make great starting points for our poetry.  But confronting our memories can be scary.  What if the good isn’t as good as we remember?  What if the bad is worse?  Perhaps of equal importance in this context: how do we create good poetry from the memories we hold?


There is much discussion of how writing about memory can be therapeutic and help us to come to terms with our own experiences.  On the converse, reading others’ poetry can also be helpful- the people at Poetry Prescribed believe that poetry can help us connect with others, boosting our own well-being.  When you look at it this way, reading poetry helps you→ writing poetry helps you →  and the poetry you write helps others, too.


I wrote before about how I used the poem “Digging”  by Seamus Heaney in my workshop.  In the poem, Heaney likens his pen to a shovel; something to dig with.  Digging can be seen as a metaphor for the emotional excavation of writing a poem.  And writing a poem can be an emotional event in itself, both cathartic and potentially exhausting.  But there are ways of making writing work for you, both in terms of your well-being and in terms of the “pay-it-forward” aspect of sharing your work.


All poetry is reflective, whether it’s an ode to autumn or a meditation on depression.  The question to ask yourself when you’re writing about your experiences is: what is it that you want to reflect on?  Using a specific memory as a starting point can be really helpful here, because it lends you a sequence of images to use in your poem.  The process of writing in this way is also therapeutic, because it gives you time and space to process the memory as a set of images, or as part of a larger theme.  This makes can make it less overwhelming to confront, and can also strengthen your poem.  Images speak louder than words, so for anyone reading your poem after you, the pictures you’ve word-sketched will be the thing they take away with them.


Sometimes you might already have a clear idea of which memories you want to write about- but this isn’t always how it works.  You might set a day aside for writing about a particular event that happened three years ago and then, midway through writing, find that a different memory comes to the fore. This is fine- you can opt to work with either one, or even try weaving a poem using both!  But by setting them out in an order- whether chronological, or in terms of their significance, or their relevance to your current project- you exert some control over them, make them work for you.


An interesting exercise can be taking one memory (e.g. losing a pink balloon at a funfair) and one poetic form (e.g. villanelle) and trying to fit the memory to the form.  It can be frustrating, but it gives you control over both the form and contents of the poem, which can be fun and also a relief at the end of a heavy day’s grappling with memory.



Blog written by Becky Balfourth







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