Broke as hell this holiday season? Invoke your creative powers this year and give a gift that's meaningful not some overpriced trinket you picked up at Somerset. Give a poem instead. Give one or three or 15. Yeah, you could knit a cute scarf or burn some fabulous music mixes ... but it's likely your loved one has never, in their entire life, had a poem written about them (not counting the high-school stuff, of course). Writing a gift-poem is both easier and harder than you think, so here are some helpful hints. But just like all rules, feel free to break them.
Hint 1: Don't doubt yourself. Dig in and do it!
The writing of poems is not exclusive to geniuses, nerds, coffee-house hippies or Old Testament prophets. With care, time, patience and a willingness to risk, you too can make a meaningful poem.
Hint 2: Screw rhyme.
A truly touching, heartfelt poem will not be cute. It will not be the kind of sing-song stuff found inside a Hallmark card. Bottom line: A poem doesn't have to rhyme and probably shouldn't. So forget the roses which are red and the violets which are blue and anything that rhymes with "you" or "do."
Hint 3: Help your reader.
A poem is built with lines. These lines guide the way the reader reads the poem. If you want a poem (or part of the poem) to be read quickly, use longer lines usually about 10 to 15 syllables is considered a long line. If you want your reader to move more slowly, use shorter lines.
And how to decide between fast or slow? For a somber or meditative subject matter, use slow lines. If you want a more jovial, matter-of-fact or fun theme, use fast lines.
Hint 4: Trust your subconscious.
Inspiration is simply the result of planning. Start the writing process with brainstorming. Jot down memories, conversations, feelings, inside jokes, future plans, certain places or objects; record anything and everything associated with your relationship to that person.
For a few days, make an effort to keep thoughts of that person always in the back of your brain. Eventually, a beautiful or interesting phrase will (as if by lightning) pop into your head. This is important; it will usually end up becoming the first line of your poem. So no matter what you are doing at the moment drop it. Get those words safely down on paper before you forget.
After formulating that splendid first line, find a quiet space as a soon as possible. Allow your pen to move without censure. Connect one thought with the next with the next with the next. This will be the rough draft of your poem.
Hint 5: Engage the senses.
For a poem to be effective, use the body and avoid the brain. Resist the temptation to summarize or to intellectually explain. Instead of writing: "I love it when she holds me," write instead: "her arms, smelling like lilac." Try to use all five senses, if possible. If your reader can feel, your reader will understand.
Hint 6: Don't forget to edit.
Editing is an essential part of the writing process. No matter how divinely inspired the poem (which seemed to just fall out of you, thanks to your brainstorming) may seem, you must edit.
Why? During the writing phase, your mind automatically grabs the first word it can and this is usually (for a beginning poet) not the best possible word to get your point across. The brain initially clutches the clichéd and the corny, which is precisely what you want to avoid.
After your first draft is done, come back to the poem a few days later and ask yourself: "What am I trying to say?" Don't be afraid to use a thesaurus. For example, if you've written "hot," there's most likely a better, more precise word. Words such as "scorching," "sultry," or "burning" might work better instead.
Last Christmas, I gave my roommate a poem which she still refers to as "the best gift I've ever gotten." This year, she'll be getting this one. My fingers remain crossed ... in the most optimal of scenarios, her gratitude will involve volunteering to clean our bathroom for a month.
This pink apartment.
though ten minutes late to work,
I stop to
rest my arms on the
ledge over the stairs.
I am struck, suddenly, by the ease of
Yesterday you said: My dreams
came true (the car, the career), but
I hadn't noticed 'til now.
Well it's the same with me, dear: for here
I am waking with you, washing clothes with
you, warring over remotes with you. Taking
pictures with you and our two cats ... and then,
later, writing captions that say Family.Heather A. McMacken's poetry has appeared in Advocate, thedetroiter.com, The Fairfield Review and will soon be appearing in 3rd Muse Poetry Journal. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org