Monday, March 1, 2021

Poetry Has Always Frightened Me. How About You?

Even back in elementary school, I loved to write. But not poems. Both reading and writing poetry scared me. I was afraid I wouldn't understand what the author was trying to say. The rules of writing poetry intimidated me. To be truthful, these fears followed me into adulthood and well beyond.

Text from a book explaining how to read poetry.
A page from "The Art of Writing and Speaking The English Language: How and What to Read" 
by Sherwin Cody, copyright 1905. Image by Susan Foster

Only in the last decade, I have begun to appreciate poetry. I now understand the interpretation of poems is subjective. Often, a poem is written to express a feeling even more than an actual thought. My favorite way to experience a poem is to listen to the author read it.

My education did not require me to write a lot of poetry. For this, I used to consider myself lucky, but now I am regretful. I do remember having to write a poem for a homework assignment (using the style of one of the poetry types we had been taught) when I was nine or ten years old. We were expected to read our work to the class the next day. I was terrified. 

I decided to write a limerick, probably because it was the style of poetry with rules I thought I was least likely to break. I don't think I realized back then that limericks are quite often funny and sometimes leud. Mine was neither! 

A limerick is "a humorous poem consisting of five lines. The first, second, and fifth lines must have seven to ten syllables while rhyming and having the same verbal rhythm. The third and fourth lines should only have five to seven syllables; they too must rhyme with each other and have the same rhythm."

"I can count syllables and come up with words that rhyme. Maybe I can do this assignment, after all," I thought.

I remember sitting a long time in our family room just twirling my pencil through my fingers, overcome by writer's block. I knew I needed to write just five lines with a set number of syllables. But, what to write about? My eyes roved around the room and finally focused on a figurine my parents had bought in Mexico, while on their honeymoon. An old man with a skeleton-thin horse. I vaguely remembered my parents telling me the story of why they bought it. Something about the old cowboy being named Tex and his horse was called Paint. 

Strangely, I still recall the lines I wrote and memorized to recite to my class the next day. I'm pretty sure I took the figurine with me to school to show my class, hoping it would bolster my performance. 

Here's the poem: 

There was an old man named Tex

He had an old dog named Rex

He had a horse named Paint

Who sadly once did faint

Because on him was placed a hex.

I was well-acquainted with Edward Lear's rhyme, "There Was an Old Man With a Beard." I know this because I remember studying the accompanying illustration in our copy of The Book of Nonsense when I was small. I suspect his first line may have laid the groundwork for mine.

  🤣 🤣 🤣 Well, I don't need to point out that my poetry was not award-worthy. That is one of the very few poems I've ever written. Lately, however, I've been thinking I should take another stab at poetry. Maybe I'll work on conquering the technique of the haiku.

A traditional Japanese haiku, according to this definition from is "a three-line poem with seventeen syllables, written in a 5/7/5 syllable count. Often focusing on images from nature, haiku emphasizes simplicity, intensity, and directness of expression."

Living in Montana, I certainly have plenty of images from nature to spark my creativity. 

A mountain scene with trees, snow and blue sky
This photo was taken from the car while leaving Big Sky Resort, Montana. Image by Susan Foster.

Some rules of poetry have relaxed a lot and new formats have emerged since I was in elementary school. These new forms are probably just as challenging to write, but somehow seem less intimidating. I was recently introduced to one of these new types of poetry by a review written by Adeola Sheehy-Adekale, about The She Book by Tanya Markul. The emotions this poetry evokes are almost visceral.

Sheehy-Adekale explains the recent style of poetry Markul uses is, "a form of writing which focuses on the affect it has, the shared experience which the reader can identify with, rather than rhyming couplets or any other poetry convention." 

What caused me to start thinking about poetry was a photo of a "tear-and-take" haiku poster tacked to a public message board. What a lovely gift a poem can be.

 Who knows, maybe one day I'll finally tackle my fear and try to write some poetry. But not today.

If you feel inspired to write a haiku about the mountain scene in the photograph above, feel free to share it in the comments below.


  1. I like poetry. I even sometimes write it (free verse, no rhyming for me). Haiku DOES intimidate me though. Perhaps it is the rigidity of the form?
    I think that you are right about poems expressing feeling. Someone (Rumi?) said that poetry is the language of the heart. Which makes sense to me.

  2. Perhaps if free verse were offered as an option in my grade school poetry class, I may have become comfortable writing it!

  3. I love poetry. All its forms. Daddy was a poet and recited all the time to his wide-eyed little shadow. When I rhyme--it's Daddy time!
    Here's my attempt at your Haiku:
    My silent back door—
    Tall, green trees, great blue mountains
    Clear air gives the lens.

    You should join us for Poetry Mondays, Susan! Totally fun!

  4. I had the opportunity of taking a poetry writing class during the Spring of 2019. We had two books: an anthology of poetry and a book on technique. We wrote a dozen poems and received critiques. If anything, the class taught me to respect poets. All my best to you for making some forays into poetry reading / writing.

    1. Maybe a class is what I need. But first, I have a lot of prose I want to get out of my head and written down.

  5. I enjoyed haiku; I went through a haiku phase when I was around 13. I had a spiral notebook and when I couldn't fall asleep (common, when I was 13) I would get out the book and start to write. I loved the form because of its structure. None of my haiku would win awards but a woman I went to high school and college with (and still a friend on Facebook) got an honorable mention once in a New York Times haiku contest. I think you are right about poems needing to be read out loud, especially if it is done by the poet. What I never enjoyed was having to study poems in school. I'd rather just "do it".

  6. The hardest course I took in university was a 400 level Romantic Poetry course that I took because it was the only course that fit into my schedule and fulfilled my degree requirements. It was tough but I did learn a lot about the poets of that era, but I think writing poetry is a talent that can't really be taught. I love your limerick!

  7. Well I always seems to love the ways in which you need less words and these less words can explain everything. In the beginning writing the poetry does scare me as I am very shy but as I read more of it, Writing became my passion.


If you enjoyed this post, I would love it if you share it on your social media sites and with your friends!