An Experiment Repeated (Rereading Old Notebooks and Resurrecting Forgotten Poetry)

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Last year on this very date, I decided to go through my massive collection of old notebooks and journals filled with poems I penned, find an old poem I totally forgot about, and attempt to give it a new chance at life by publishing it on this blog. This is a practice I would encourage every writer to try at least once. Though revisiting your past words might prove to be quite embarrassing, it also helps track your progress as a writer. On this first anniversary of that post, I’ve chosen to repeat that experiment, settling on an even older piece which I estimate is about 25 years old. Rereading the following has proven extremely illuminating to me, showing me how much my writing has changed (and hopefully improved). Back then I was writing strictly in free verse, not yet having developed my fanatical obsession with weird poetry forms. Also slam poetry was a definite influence on me, although I didn’t really care much for that style (I still don’t), but it seemed like during that time slam poetry was the only type of open poetry readings that were happening in my area (the line about “greater Providence” is a reference to AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island which hosted a slam poetry venue I frequented). As a result, I heard a lot of angst-filled rants and I remember this poem being an attempt to parody that type of poetry even though it probably wasn’t much better than what it was trying to satirize. Truthfully, I don’t even think this poem is all that terrible. I sort of rather enjoy the building and construction metaphor which I later recycled in what I believe was a much more successful poem. Still, like its title indicates, it probably is an example of fairly bad poetry. But I am not sure, so please let me know what you think:

In Celebration of Really Bad Poetry

There is enough venom in my veins
to poison greater Providence

(or at least make their spirits sick)
and I have bled all over this verse,

flooding the foundation with
an ocean of my insecurities.

The previous metaphor
was so poorly mixed,

the whole damn construction
is structurally unsound,

and ought to be condemned.
So unsuspecting reader,

be forewarned, do not seek shelter
in this poem so full of holes,

the similes like a leaky
ceiling drip incessantly,

disturbing this slumber
I once thought was my life.

Rereading Old Notebooks… (and Resurrecting a Forgotten Poem)


Having started writing poetry long before I ever owned an iPhone, tablet, or even a computer, I have accumulated a massive collection of old notebooks and journals filled with poems and random thoughts I have penned throughout the years. Every once in a while, (especially when I am at a loss for new ideas), I will grab one at random, and reread it. This is a practice I would highly recommend for every writer. Though this act can be a bit embarrassing, by revisiting your past words, you can track your progress as a writer. You also might even rediscover some hidden gem that you wrote but totally forgot about. Recently I found a fragment of an unfinished poem that I was able to rewrite and resurrect as a piece I am now quite proud of. But more often, I will find poems that make me squirm when I read them now, stuff that I have no idea what to do with. So here is my brainstorm: why not publish them on this blog?

Here is one that I just unearthed the other day. I never got in the habit of dating my work, but my guesstimate would be that it is from the mid-1990s, detecting some influence from slam poetry I was listening to back then. I can’t say if I feel it is bad or good, but one thing, it is certainly something I would never write today. Please let me know in the comments what you think.

Old Man on the Street

On a city sidewalk,
where eye contact
can be a punishable offence,
he still smiles at passing strangers
who analyze his motives,
and question his character.

Sometimes a pretty passerby
will toss the old man a look.
Sometimes he steals one uninvited,
gazing openly at smooth lips
and vacuous blue eyes.

He has been warned
the streets are no place
for social situations,
people are too condensed,
too concerned with just
coming and going,
there are more appropriate arenas
to make friends or acquire acquaintances.
But the street is now the only p!ace,
this old man knows.

In the frigid afternoon,
a college boy (wearing
an unreadable expression)
hands him his leftover coffee,
saying human interaction
is an old fashioned concept,
that hip people today meet
on the internet falling in love
over miles and miles of fiber optic cable.

The old man knows when he is being
told a joke, and smiles with jagged teeth.
The boy returns his gesture,
and will again the next time they pass.
Perhaps a smile, not microtechnology,
is still enough to dissolve the curse
of being alone and lonely.

Free Verse Versus Form Poetry

Although I often write in free verse, I have a certain fondness for poetry forms, not only the standard, well-known ones like sonnets, haikus, and sestinas, but especially the weird and obscure like the minute and alphabet poems. In fact, my obsession with them has gone so far, I have repeatedly invented my own.

I am pretty sure you already know what a poetry form is, but recently while conversing with a seasoned poet I never met before at a local open poetry reading, I was shocked to discover that she had no clue what I was talking about. So just in case, you are like that particular lady, form poetry is simply a type of poem (like the previously mentioned sonnets, haikus, and sestinas) that has a distinct set of rules regarding how the poem is to be written, such as the lengths of line, the number of lines and stanzas, subject matter, etc.

When I was teaching poetry workshops for children in libraries and elementary schools, I would often compare writing free verse and form poetry with free play or playing a game such as hopscotch or tic-tac-toe. One is play that is only restricted by your imagination, and the other has a set of rules which you need to follow. Both can be extremely fun, it all depends on what type of play you are in the mood at the time.

Many poets have told me that they could never write a form poem, that they would find it much too difficult and restricting. Yet I actually feel the opposite to be true. For me, it can much easier to follow the rules of a poetry form, which liberates me from having to make such needling decisions as how long to make the lines, or how many lines or stanzas to write. Rhyming too can be freeing, limiting your choice of words at the end of your lines, instead of forcing you to choose the perfect word from almost infinite possibilities.

If you have never tried writing poetry forms before, please give it a try. It is not as daunting as you might think, and you just might enjoy the process. To that end, in my next blog post, I plan to introduce you to a brand new poetry form, one that I invented myself….