Poetry Toolkit: 'poemcrazy'
Updated: Jan 5
'It's impossible to teach anyone to write a poem. But we can set up circumstances in which poems are likely to happen. We can create a field in and around us that's fertile territory for poems.'
Straightforward, 'poemcrazy' is a passionate rallying call to get the poet out of you. In fact, the whole book ultimately boils down to only one piece of advice: if you want to write poetry, then get yourself a pen and notebook, and go jot down the world around you in all its 'ordinary magic' (an expression the author stole from Alan Ginsberg). That's it.
That's it, but GOSH! How enthusiastic she is! Her heartfelt passion and consuming drive are actually what make it all a worthy read.
Reading like a diary serving random thoughts, very sensual and totally engaged with the world around her, Susan Wooldridge indeed shows pages after pages that everything and anything can serve as material for poetry. She ends up every chapter by hints at exercises to do to illustrate the relevance of her points. More, being a poetry teacher she also draws on her experience working with youngsters of any age and walks of life to demonstrate that poetry can be done by everybody and on absolutely anything (and, by the way, quoting poems born in some of her workshops, what beautiful verses some of her students came up with!).
There are brilliant spurs:
'In poems, being different is an asset; we don't have to think of ourselves negatively. Our idiosyncrasies are like prizes. We can be proud of who we are. It's freeing to express our one-of-a-kind soul.'
'Poems aren't simply bits of art to be whittled to perfection to be admired or revered. They're ground troopers with lasers beans illuminating caverns within. They can bring messages from and about our deepest selves broadening our respect and reverence for who we are.'
Yet, this book is quite easy to dismiss. It's just encouragements and prompts with absolutely nothing on technique and prosody. It's quite repetitive. She clearly gets carried away towards the end. Her wild enthusiasm may also seem plain silly or annoying at times, although contagious (see how she writes abut e. e. cummings or Walt Whitman). Hence, it's certainly not a necessary read.
Having said that, I still think it's a pleasant book to go through not least because, on a strictly personal level, some of her points particularly resonated with me.
First, I too like to keep lists of words to pick in and associate until something creative comes up - a process that feels like soaking in the world before breathing it out. I was therefore agreeably surprised to see that Susan Wooldridge mainly gets inspired the same way (she calls her own personal lists 'wordpools').
'A word can trigger or inspire a poem, and words in a stack or thin list can make up poems.'
Then, because I also completely adhere to her view that poetry is mainly about images:
'Creating an image with words can express a feeling with colours flooding in (…). Image is the root word for imagination. It's from the Latin word imago, 'picture', how you see things. Images carry feelings. Saying, 'I'm angry', or 'I'm sad', has little impact. Creating images, I can make you feel how I feel.'
All in all, then, if there's nothing at all on the technical side of the craft, once you forgive her for stating the obvious and leave aside her at times over the top enthusiasm, here's a very friendly and passionate invite into the realm of poetry. It's nothing more than just that, but it does it very well.
So... Still want to write poems? Then go get that pen and notebook!
'Poems hang out where life is.'