On Poems and Writing

Edith here, using all the fans.

I’ve been writing so much during recent months. On Saturday my brain needed a break, and friends who had moved out of town were back. So I hosted a small bring-your-own lunch Solstice picnic in my garden, suitably distanced. After we ate and talked and drank, we each shared a poem or two.

I read “I Shot a Gun” from Ellie O’Leary‘s new collection, Breathe Here. Ellie is a talented writer I met twenty years ago at the Pyramid Lake Women Writers’ Retreat. She’s originally from Maine but now lives in Amesbury and is this year’s Poet Laureate. I picked that poem because, as a crime writer, I wanted to hear what she had to say about guns. But then I realized it was really about writing.

She talks about being at her friend’s uncle’s house as a girl and being given a rifle to shoot. I knew from that day I would always be a wordsmith, not a warrior was the line that caught me. It goes on:

Figured my aim would be better with words than guns – because when I pulled the trigger my thought was, “Oh, kickback. That’s what that means.” (Sorry, I can’t make the poem’s original line breaks work here.) I hope you’ll look up the book.

Another favorite poem about being a writer is Billy Collins’ “Purity.” He writes, after a few lines:

I take a fresh pot of tea into my study and close the door.
Then I remove my clothes and leave them in a pile
as if I had melted to death and my legacy consisted of only
a white shirt, a pair of pants and a pot of cold tea.

Then I remove my flesh and hang it over a chair.

It goes on from there about wanting nothing between him and his words. I am entirely pure: nothing but a skeleton at a typewriter. Read the whole thing if you can.

It’s good to peruse poetry to give my prose brain a break, and it’s even better to read poems about writing! Now I wonder if my beloved Mary Oliver has one.

Readers: Do you know other poems about being a writer? Share your favorite poem or poet.

15 Thoughts

  1. The first one that popped into my head was Carl Sandburg’s PENCILS. It begins . . .

    Telling where the wind comes from
    Open a story

    Telling where the wind goes
    end a story . . .”

    Please find it on line and read it to the end. .It’s so true!

  2. That is fascinating, and bolsters the idea that writing comes from within the writer, whether its from the writer’s soul, heart, or . . . skeleton. I will check out Ellie O’Leary’s new collection of poems.

    I guess this is my favorite poem, and it could be about writing. Or really, it could be about achieving mind over matter in any form.

    “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” By Shell Silverstein.

  3. It’s not about writing but I always loved this poem by Emily Dickinson and used to have it pinned to my bulletin board in high school. If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain.

  4. I have never really gotten into poetry, but it’s been a while since I’ve tried. I love how you shared some favorites with friends though!

  5. Since early childhood I have kept quotes and poems journals and one of the earliest quotes that I wrote is about words. “A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, in a 1918 Supreme Court decision, Towne v. Eisner. (I just discovered that it was in one of his Supreme Court decisions.) And, a poem I learned in high school: Word by Stephen Spender, a British Poet 1909-95) The word bites like a fish./Shall I throw it back free/Arrowing to that sea/Where thoughts lash tail and fin?/Or shall I pull it in/To rhyme upon a dish?

  6. Another Billy Collins – I love this poem because it’s the first time since school that I kept rereading a poem, unlocking new levels of understanding. I did web searches on various phrases, realizing they were all from her poems. I love how Collins’s poems seem simple at first, accessible at first glance, and then bring me to a deeper insight.

    Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes


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