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How To Write A Poem

byCal Y. Pygia©

Notice, first of all, please, that the title of this essay is not "How To Write Poetry," for a title of that sort would be presumptuous, and I am more modest than that, or try to be, anyway, most of the time. No, that's not my purpose here (or anywhere else, for that matter). My hope is much more limited: "How To Write A Poem." In fact, I would have called this piece "How To Write A Poem Like Mine," but such a title would be outrageously arrogant.

Nevertheless, despite my humbler title, I am, in fact, going to talk about how to write a poem like mine. If you're not interested, that's fine. If you are, here goes.

I'm an imagist. According to Wikipedia (and me), an imagist is one who favors "precision of imagery and clear, sharp language." By "imagery," I mean descriptive words and phrases--words and phrases that both create mental images, or pictures, and are concrete--that is, appeal to one or more of the five physical senses--sight, hearing, smell, taste, and/or touch--often by way of a simile or a metaphor. As an imagist, I am more in tune (or in touch) with incongruity, irony, iconoclasm, poetic surrealism, and the like. To put the same idea another way, I point out the fly in the ointment, exhibit the one thing leftover that doesn't quite fit into the neat and tidy Scheme of Things, show how one thing can mean something else (often its opposite), and disappoint the hopes of those who seek simplicity and meaning in simple and "meaningful" persons, places, and things. In other words, I'm pretty much a royal pain in the ass--but a poetic one.

Usually, my poems start with an image in my own mind. My verse has a deliberate and effective beat (I said I'm modest, but I'm not falsely so); it often takes the form of short lines; it tends to result in long, seemingly rambling (but actually well controlled) sentences made up of many seemingly interrupting phrases; it seldom rhymes; and it typically confuses by juxtaposing contraries, absurdities, ironies, and, less often, but still somewhat regularly, epiphanies. Wordsworth said we murder to dissect, and, of course, that's true; we do. However, we--or, at least I--also dissect to revive and even to resurrect.

Revive experience, I mean, and resurrect perception. When we see the same things the same way a few times too often, we become jaded, take "reality" for granted, and lose a large part of our humanity, if not exactly our souls.

But let me exemplify the writing of a poem like mine.

As I said, I start with an image in my own mind, and, most often, it is an unusual, even a startling, image, one that upsets the applecart of ordinary experience and clichéd "perception." (Whenever possible, I also toss in something erotic or at least something sexual, because erotic poetry should be erotic and, when it isn't, it should be at least sexual.) I started one poem with a picture in my head of dismembered dolls. Their decapitated rubber heads and limbless plastic bodies and their wide, unblinking blue eyes seemed strange and terrible enough, especially associated with an innocent young girl who sleeps with a teddy bear, I thought. However, what would account for such a state of affairs? I knew at once: her brother, of course! Brothers are known for their cruelty toward their innocent and peaceful, if not altogether docile, sisters, and many a mean-spirited male sibling would take delight in inflicting such cruelties as beheading and dismembering his sister's dolls, perhaps while entertaining fantasies of his own burgeoning manhood. The poem, from that point on, came together nicely, and I called it--what else?--"Sibling Rivalry":

The little girl has quite a collection
of arms and heads and legs
and dismembered torsos
among her teddy bears and dolls,
and the little boy, her brother,
sleeps among dead soldiers
and misshapen machines, pretending,
no doubt, in his little boy dreams,
that he is The Terminator
pursuing Sarah Connor across
a nightmare landscape strewn
with the plastic corpses
of slaughtered Ken and Barbie dolls.

There is something delightful, if I do say so myself, about the picture of malevolence that lies behind the young boy's seemingly innocent face and fantasies, which renews the experience of the rivalry that most sisters have had, but not necessarily enjoyed, with their brothers.

From my youth, I have been a fan of such writers as Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King, who confront us, through imagery and storylines of the bizarre and the macabre, with renewals of experiences long forgotten or, possibly, repressed. It was with their fiction and (in the case of Poe, if not King) poetry that I started "Seamless Grotesqueries"; however, since I was writing the verse for Literotica--and for its "Erotic Poems," at that--I decided to focus on and explore grotesqueries of a more or less sexual nature, grotesqueries that "masquerade," as I suggest in the opening lines of the poem, as "beauties/ Born of desire," including artists' reclining nudes (with a transsexual difference, or twist, to enhance the surreal effect); a disfigured, but otherwise, beautiful and desirable woman; an old maid who happens also to be both a cross dresser and a librarian (mostly because of the clichés associated with librarians as being asexual, straightforward, no-nonsense pseudo-intellectuals); deceased women who, during their short lifetimes, were considered hot and sexy but who are, sadly, neither, now that death has claimed them (the death of a beautiful young woman, Poe says, is the most poetical topic in the world); the idea that some famous women, as represented, in the poem, by Jamie Lee Curtis, may be men in disguise, as it were; the jilted woman in her suffering; the self-destructive woman who, despite her beauty, has low self-esteem; and selfless women whose suffering as mothers gives birth, both figuratively and literally, at times to creative sons, all within a framework of polymorphous perversity, as represented by the refrain, "I will look at anything sexual./ How about you?":

Seamless grotesqueries
Masquerading as beauties
Born of desire;
There are so many
I cannot count them all!

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

Sexy Rebecca reclines nude
On her pink-backed divan,
A blanket of moons and stars
Covering her
Buttocks and thighs,
Reading, by the light
Of a shrunken moon,
Thick tomes of enchantment,
Signs and symbols
Intelligible only to her
Kind of women,
Sisters of the coven
Of transsexual sinners,
On the wall overhead.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

Under the full moon,
Ulrike's woman
Needs a lantern
Because she's lost an eye;
If anything, she looks
More beautiful than before
And less offensive
For the plucking.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

David's librarian is a cross dresser;
She looks rather maidenly,
In a spinsterish sort of way,
The tiny skulls that take the place
Of heads upon the pins with which
She skewers her graying hair
Give her a certain air
Of the austere,
And she is, for her age,
Well preserved; one might mistake
Her for one of the living,
Were it not for the worms
Crawling through the shoulder
Of her matron's gown.
The bony finger
To her schoolmarm's lips
Should be taken seriously, indeed,
For there is no title
On the cover
Of the tome she reads.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

Zombies are people, too;
They have their hang-ups
And their pinups;
The latter wear skulls
Upon their panties and bras;
Some even wear the tattered
Corsets and lingerie
In which they were buried
On the day
Of their cemetery debuts.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

Some say
Jamie Lee Curtis
Looks like a man
Despite breasts
And buttocks
Any woman,
Even Angelina,
Would kill for--
Tell the truth, now:
Were you ever
By her,
With desire
For her?

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

Sometimes, my inner demon
Cannot decide what to be
Once evening gives way
To midnight, but that's okay;
I am willing to be anything at all.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

The queen of broken hearts
Holds a rose in one hand,
A dagger in the other,
And the tears she cries
Look like drops of blood,
But she says, "It's only my mascara;
It runs when I bleed."
Sometimes, I think she may beat me
With her wings, assault me
With her desire to be whole
And free of the likes of you and me.
She has pretty breasts, despite the scar
That decorates her abdomen,
Making her who she is
And us what we are likely to be
Some day.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

She, too, is beautiful, but intense,
With three parallel scars
Starting to heal
Below her left eye,
A look of grief
Upon her haggard face,
And, instead of stars,
Tiny skulls in the pupils
Of her catatonic eyes.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

Her sister, the one who exfoliates
Her face with barbed wire,
Looks lovely, too, the lacerations
Like grooves imparted
By an acid tongue;
She looks expectant
In the field of corn,
Beneath the ragged scarecrow's gaze;
Perhaps she's been here before,
Seeking the caresses of razor-wire
Or something else
With which to cut herself.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

If your poem contains a word
Like "breasts" or "cunt,"
"testicles," "balls," "buttocks,"
Or, above all, "cock,"
Critics will call it "pornographic,"
Although most whores
Lack poetic elegance,
Except, perhaps, in bed.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

The dentist told my mother
To "count backward from a hundred,"
And she drifted away,
Giving birth to experimental decay,
Calling out of the darkness,
Wanting to know, "Why are the maidens
Naked, and why do the dragons care?"
She gave birth, right there in the chair,
To existential angst brighter
Than the rubies in Pandora's fabled box.

I will look at anything sexual.
How about you?

Seamless grotesqueries
Masquerading as beauties
Born of desire;
There are so many
I cannot count them all!

That's how (and why) I write my poems the way I do. It's certainly not the only way, and, quite likely, it's not even the best way, but it's a fun way, and it's a way that works, and it is, therefore, a way that you, too, may write a poem, if you are of the mind to do so.

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