Read Poetry; Read About Poetry

by Rachael on March 3, 2011

Thursdays at The Variegated Life: on the creative life and shipping the goodies …

Of my ten rules for writing poetry, #2 (Write every day), #4 (Read poetry), and #5 (Read about poetry) are the most obvious. And yet, how easily I forget! I should make a notice to hang above my desk:

Dear Rachael,
When you feel you have nothing to say
or that you have no idea what you’re doing,
read poetry, read poetry, read poetry!
Yours, Rachael

By keeping a journal, I get to know my material. By reading poetry (and, though to a lesser degree, by reading about poetry), I see the variety of ways in which my material (possibly) can be shaped into art. Not all ways will suit me or my material. But, as Marie Howe put it in a recent Writers Studio craft class, by reading we “take in possibilities from other writers.” Some of those possibilities just might be my possibilities, too.

Another thing happens when I read poetry: I get hungry, ambitious. I want to be able to do that, and that, and that!

Plus, there is the pleasure of reading:

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, “Do you think I could be a writer?”

“Well,” the writer said, “I don’t know…. Do you like sentences?”

The writer could see the student’s amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am twenty years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, “I liked the smell of the paint.”

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Oh, how I love sentences!

How do you cultivate your sense of possibilities for your creative work? What feeds your aspirations?

Next Thursday: on shitty drafts and trusting the process.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

teresa March 3, 2011 at 12:50 PM

Oh, I love this post!!
I don’t think I’ve ever read, The Writing Life. I’m getting it today!
And, I love how you describe your enthusiasm (hunger).
You’ve inspired me today and I really needed inspiration.
I hope you have a day filled with poetry.
teresa recently posted… I just have to say it…


Rachael March 17, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Let me know how you like The Writing Life. I don’t have my copy of it anymore, and I noticed at her Web site that Dillard calls it an “embarrassing book.” Hm. Some very good ideas from that book have stuck with me in the decades since I first read an excerpt from it in the New York Times Book Review.


Michelle @ The Parent Vortex March 4, 2011 at 2:37 AM

Yes, yes, yes. I have been working to make more time for reading in my day, reading meaty things like books that make me think and beautiful stories. Things that may not feel like “being productive” but work to fuel the fire and bring me the pleasure of really good words.

Of course, the most recent thing I read was a sewing book, and instead of getting hungry to write I knocked out two tote bags in the space of five days. Ah well. I still felt creative, just in a more tactile way.
Michelle @ The Parent Vortex recently posted… Playful Self-Discipline- Making my Bed


Amber March 5, 2011 at 11:40 PM

I need to ride the muse, a little. I get inspirations all at once, and then none for a while. Even if I write one sentence (see? sentences!) about each, it’s enough to put me back in that space when I have the time to capitalize on it.
Amber recently posted… Scenes from BirthFest


sarah March 6, 2011 at 8:18 PM

Thank you so much for those links. I needed that just now. The Linda Gregg! Wow. I’ve not read her in a long while. As if you sent that sign you need above your desk out into the internet world for the rest of us to read.


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