poetry

I hate poetry. When I was younger I loved it and my parents tried to foster a love of it in me, buying me books of poetry. I loved how the words fit together: how they tasted. I memorized poem after poem, sometimes with intention and sometimes accidentally, having read them again and again. The problem was, my parents gave me adult poems–that is to say poems by adults. Once I learned a Shel Silverstein poem and my mom positively hated it and encouraged me not to repeat it around her.

When I started writing poetry, I was impossibly bad at it. I probably wasn’t bad in context. If I had been reading poems for children, simple rhyming phrases, I might not have thought I was so horrible. I was reading Shelley and Shakespeare. Whitman. I compared myself to these people, people with smooth flowing words and strong images.

Over time I grew to hate poetry. Sure, I have specific poets and poems I like, but by and large I hate it as a genre. I never seek it out. Sometimes it’s foisted on me and I smile and nod and carry on some socially approved action to express that I approve of it or find value in it. And I do find value, especially as a means of self-expression for people. I just rarely think it’s any good.

I’m still bad at writing poetry, but I enjoy writing constrained poems. I like working within constraints, trying to make things fit into a patter, trying to tweak stresses in words, combinations of long and short syllables to create something that is not of artist value but rather simply accomplishing a task of fulfilling a lot of ridiculous requirements. I write double dactyls especially. I’ve done a few sestinas, but no matter how much I wish I could treat sounds and syllables as modular raw materials, without prescribed or described meaning, I am incapable of doing so.

In school we were required to start writing haiku sometime between grades 5 and 7. Some part of some unit on poetry and other cultures. To practice Japanese characters and sentetnce structures, I started writing haiku in Japanese shortly after I started studying Japanese. The practical use of kanji was what actually cemented the strokes, pronunciation, and meanings into my memory.

In my recent Chinese studies, I decided that I ought to return to this method of character use. I don’t use them enough in classwork to learn them in the ways I need to. I first tried to write a haiku and then it was pointed out to me that maybe the Chinese don’t write haiku.

So it turns out they don’t really.

There are freeform Chinese poems, but more traditionally–as I understand it–Chinese poems are structured around equal numbers of characters in a set number of lines (frequently three or multiples of four) with rhyming patterns based on the final phoneme. Rhyming couplets are standard, though you’ll encounter three line poems in which every line rhymes.

I write little poems on postcards–I have a lot of them from varios trips to various places. I keep them on my desk at work. Each week I pick one and it sits at the front, right near my monitor, just below eye level. I stare and frown until I have an idea. Until I see little people moving across it and there’s a story in my mind. I struggle to find the words to express the image I have, and then struggle even harder to translate it into English.

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