“But you write such good poetry,” she said to me. “I can’t write poetry, I’m just not good at it. I’m not natural, like you are.”
I smiled, partly out of pride and slightly embarrassed happiness, partly out of irony.
“How do you think I write poetry, best?” I asked her. “What makes it ‘special’ when I do it?”
“I dunno,” she replied. “You just seem to get it, you use words beautifully and make deep connections.”
“Thanks,” I began, still smiling, “but no.”
“That’s not it. Well, not always. Er…not usually.”
I sighed. “Want to know the secret to writing poetry?” I asked.
“No way,” she breathed. “Everything you write is too beautiful to be bullshit.”
“Well, thank you,” I chuckled, “but you flatter me. Granted,” I qualified, “I didn’t say the writing is crap. I said the process is bullshit.”
“I don’t get it. I don’t see how that can be true.”
“Here—let’s make a poem, right here, right now, together.”
“But I can’t.”
“No,” I said, giving her a raised eyebrow. “You can. That’s my point. Watch.”
I paused momentarily to think of how to structure the lesson.
“Okay,” I began. “Think of something that could be symbolic of something, even if it’s a cliché.”
She considered for a moment. “The ocean,” she replied.
“Okay, perfect. Now what does the ocean do?”
“You know, what actions are associated with the ocean?”
I nodded eagerly. “Yes, perfect. But in ‘good’ poetry, you’d never tell it straightforward. You want to make it sound innovative and potentially meaningful?” I asked. “Reverse the action. Turn the image on its head.”
“Instead of a loud verb like ‘crash,’ use an opposite like ‘whisper.’ So ‘The ocean whispers to me.’ There’s your first line of a fucking brilliant poem.”
I gestured excitedly and she laughed at my enthusiasm.
“Okay, now what you slacker?” she teased.
“Now for some poetic devices. Let’s sprinkle some alliteration in there.”
“Enlighten me, oh brilliant one.”
I pushed her good-naturedly at the quip and she shoved me back, playfully.
“The trick to alliteration is to not overuse it. I don’t mean to use it sparingly, but literally to not overuse it. Let it be subtle. One of the most jarring and obvious attempts at being creative I see in writing to seem poetic is to abuse alliteration,” I said. “People string together as many words as they can in a row that start with the same letter, thinking it sounds poetic. But it doesn’t—it’s just shitty.”
“So to effectively use alliteration, try to get two words alliterated at a time, three at the most. You can have multiple alliterations in the same line, just create a break between the phrases—especially if you use the same letter.”
“Example, please,” she urged.
“The ocean whispers to me,/ mellifluous melodies releasing me/ from mortal manacles that tether me to reality.”
She stared at me.
“Oh, and a lot of popular poetry deals with escape and existential shit. Want to sound poetic? Be introspective, but trying to break free. People eat that shit up.”
I laughed. “See? But there’s more.”
“Go on then.”
“Now we need a metaphor,” I explained. “Something to indicate a symbol that can either recur or otherwise be referenced again or tied to the meaning of the poem at the end.”
“Let’s use birds,” she requested.
“The ocean whispers to me,/ mellifluous melodies releasing me/ from mortal manacles that tether me to reality./ Feathers litter the sand,/ the only evidence of dreams/ that managed to escape earth/ where my feet are moored.”
“Holy shit,” she breathed.
“Does this not sound like something I’d write? And it’s getting pretty existential.”
“This sounds exactly like something you’d write.”
“But doesn’t is sound good?”
“It’s bullshit. We just made this up together, no inspiration.”
“So…” she began hesitantly. “So, does that mean all the stuff you’ve said was ‘inspired by this or that’ was a lie?”
“No, no no no,” I stuttered. “Not in the slightest. Everything I’ve written with a claim for inspiration was legitimately inspired, usually by you. My point was that good-sounding poetry doesn’t need inspiration. It can be forced out. It shouldn’t sound mechanical or bored, but that you can just sort of make yourself write and it’ll form itself.”
“Well, yeah,” I muttered. “The evidence is right in front of you. We just wrote the first stanza to your next kickass poem.”
She laughed at me and rolled her eyes. “You fraud.”
“Oh, stop it. You know you’re not surprised. But in all honesty,” I added, “I usually come to find a true point by the end of the poem. The process inspires me to say something legitimate, even if it starts off as essentially nothing.”
“God, you must feel so good about yourself, tricking everyone into thinking you have talent,” she said sarcastically.
“Hey—if a reader finds meaning in the poem, then it’s significant. Even if I don’t have a clear message to give, the reader will find one, and appreciate it, and think it’s beautiful and profound. That’s what truly good poetry is: it makes meaning out of anything, and it can mean most anything to anyone.”
She smiled and shook her head. “God, you’re so full of shit,” she replied before kissing me.