By Nicole Van Den Eng
The foundation of poetry is recognizing the power of words. ‘Storm’ is a good example. And we put powerful words together to illustrate messages: ‘a storm opened up and drowned the city.’ Those are words with heavy meaning, figurative or not.
But still, poetry is word play. There’s not an official way a poem must be written. Poetry is a way to write without having to abide by the million rules of fiction (which I will not quote to you at this time). The fun of poetry is that you don’t have to use complete sentences in poetry or make perfect paragraphs. You can leave an idea incomplete—‘the sound of lightning’—and still retain influence.
When writing fiction (okay, I’m going to quote one rule), you must have a purpose for every statement; it must move the story forward or convey character. In poetry, that’s not always true. I can write, ‘the architect drank her omen,’ and in poetry, that line can stand alone. Because its purpose is to make you wonder what it could mean. That’s not to say it doesn’t have meaning; its meaning could fuel other paragraphs in my poem: who is the architect? What was the omen? Or, you can just let it stand as is. But look, it becomes a miniscule story:
opened up and drowned the city.
The sound of lightning;
and the Architect drank her omen.
I could throw a descriptive word in there like crashed. The storm can crash or the lighting can crash or it can have its very own line. I can do anything I want. I can mess with its structure, or its punctuation, or capitalization.
But you know what I like the very best about poetry? It can run through my head all day and I can write it down in the hour between dinner and bedtime while my kids are relatively satiated.
Here’s a longer poem I’ve been working on…
Wintertide and Eve
She went out to chop wood but remembered she didn’t chop wood anymore
because of her back.
She got out the instant coffee.
Then put it back.
When he died, she lost
the part of herself that minded.
A fire burned in their cabin.
She dressed a mini pine and burned some needles for scent.
The cabin was blotted with half attempts.
One of the two stockings that were hung
his and hers
She tore it down and burned it. Hers.
Snow fell quietly and with little weight.
There was wood.
Sticky sap on her fingers. She went to wash in the bathtub.
When the drain didn’t drain she had a fit.
She threw the comb and hit the wall and ripped down the towel and smashed the soap.
And then was still. There was no one around to hear her.
Into the deep deep crusty snow with no food or water.
it would be a long walk. The sun was pale white
and she thought it morbid and clever,
roving into the vast vast blank.
The woods were bare, spindly, and blended.
She could hardly manage to carry herself.
Black against gray brown white.
She yanked her neck to the left but
he wasn’t shy.
He was there, close. He was here.
Anguish. He smelled it before she had time to cry out.
Though she didn’t. Her insides were broken.
He built her a fire.
She didn’t say Thank You.
The sky purpled as she shifted between ignoring him and studying him.
She was not disappointed by her death.
Spines on his skin shimmered and bristled and chittered like a cricket’s.
“I will never be the same,” she answered.
He ate her then, not because he was cruel, but because he recognized
And because even he enjoyed dinner by firelight.