Why I Write Poetry: Jane Shlensky

A few weeks ago, I posted about “Why I Write Poetry” and encouraged others to share their thoughts, stories, and experiences for future guest posts. I’ve already received so many, and I hope they keep coming in (details on how to contribute below). Thank you!

Today’s “Why I Write Poetry” post comes from Jane Shlensky, who says, “Each poem is a journey with many roads, a way of remembering, a way of being in the world.”

Jane Shlensky, a teacher and musician, holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. She and long-time friend Nancy Posey coordinated the Fall Face-to-Face poetry event in Hickory (NC) and were co-laureates for April PAD 2016. Jane’s recent poetry can be found in Writer’s Digest, Pinesong, KAKALAK, Southern Poetry Anthology: NC, and others. Her poems are Pushcart nominated and her short stories recognized as finalists in fiction contests. Her poetry chapbook, Barefoot on Gravel (2016), is available from Finishing Line Press.


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Why I Write Poetry: Jane Shlensky

Jane Shlensky

Growing up on a farm meant boringly redundant labor from which we sought distractions. Thankfully, on a farm, there are also wonders to observe and process. Singing our way across a field or milking cows, we made up verses of songs when we didn’t know the words; we watched our mama write poems and read them as if they tasted just right on her tongue. I wanted that too. I think where we call home forms our verse. I learned to write because it kept my brain alive, allowing me to vent and create simultaneously.


Everybody needs a way to release psychic steam. Writing poetry was a primary pressure valve for me—that and playing piano. Once I learned I could play a poem, I tinkered with composing songs and still do. Writing formed verse helps in songwriting, which is why I so enjoy Robert’s form challenges. Meter and rhyme, various forms, are my version of higher mathematics.

Beyond the release of stress, poetry helped me learn like a good teacher, a good guide to many angles of vision and ways of being. Writing poetry is a good friend—peaceful and funny, intelligent and sensitive, humorous and kind, honest and darned good company for a shy girl—what you’d expect a best friend to be. I learned by the time I was eight and squirreling away my own poems that fifteen minutes turned to hours when I was writing, buffing, and enjoying the visit, so to speak.


Jane Shlensky

I’m a broken vessel, struggling with depression, but sometimes the right words help. I’ve let writing poetry serve lots of purposes, as my staircase and safety net, my pruning hook and soothing balm. It is my chew toy, my punching bag, my pet thought, my seed pod, both marching tune and lullaby. For 40 years, as a teacher of writing, I wrote because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite to my students. Some days I wrote almost in defiance, because, damn it, I deserved a few minutes to ground myself and make my own meaning before I tried to help teenagers make theirs.

But mostly, I write poetry because I don’t know how not to. Without it, I have not been as happy, thoughtful, or loving. While I enjoy writing fiction, composing poetry taps into a kinder, wiser, perhaps more hopeful me. Often my narrative poems help me articulate a feeling or a place I will rewrite in short stories, or short fiction becomes a poem.


Each poem is a journey with many roads, a way of remembering, a way of being in the world. I write poetry because I want to be a good human, true and worthy, and poetry rejects my best lies. Like that good friend, a false line reaches off the page and slaps me, teaching me what resonates as Truth and how to be better than I am. We all need a friend like that.


If you’d like to share why you write poetry, please send an e-mail to robert.brewer@fwmedia.com with a 300-500 word personal essay that shares why you write poetry. It can be serious, happy, sad, silly–whatever poetry means for you. And be sure to include your preferred bio (50-100 words) and head shot. If I like what you send, I’ll include it as a future guest post on the blog.


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19 thoughts on “Why I Write Poetry: Jane Shlensky

  1. seingraham

    Not sure how I missed this before, but am glad I found it now. As always you write with such exquisite precision, even in an essay-type item, your poetic mode and voice ringing through authentically with every word, just why you do what you do and why you can’t not do it. It explains, of course, why we are enthralled by you and happily so; I know I read and reread everything you write and count myself the luckier for it. As Walt so aptly put it, we battle similar demons – although as others have mentioned – you do a much better job than I at masking your pain – but, we will persevere, we will! Wonderful piece, Janey.

  2. Rosemary Nissen-Wade

    Beautifully said, Jane. I love that you see your poetry as your friend. One who never lets you down, obviously. I would not have dreamed you suffer from depression, as your poetry tends to make me feel joyous and uplifted – I am always pleased to see your name for that reason – as well as awed by your apparently-easy craft. So you are most certainly achieving your highest goals in writing it! (And I so understand writing poetry because one can’t not.)

    1. Jane Shlensky

      Rosemary, I like to think I’m a cheerful depressed person on days when I can deflect it. I’m glad my poetry isn’t afflicted. Thanks for the kind words.

  3. Nurit Israeli

    “I write poetry because I want to be a good human, true and worthy…”
    You are such a good human, Jane: so true, so worthy, so kind, so generous, and such a gifted poet. I admire your writing and love everything about you. Thank you for sharing yourself so meaningfully…

    1. Jane Shlensky

      Nurit, thanks for believing in me and always saying such positive things. Wanting to be a better person counts, even if I fall short. Love you

  4. Marie Elena


    Oh my, the elegance with which you write. The feeling. Your way of telling a compelling story. Your lyrical “voice.” When Walt and I began Poetic Bloomings and the site would not allow you to post, you came to me with great humbleness, asking if I would please copy/paste your poems on your behalf. I’m not sure if I ever made it clear what a privilege that was. What an honor. When the word “poet” comes to my attention, you are one of about a dozen people who come to mind. Thank you for sharing yourself so generously among us.

    1. Jane Shlensky

      Oh, Marie, you and Walt were so helpful and encouraging to your BLoomers and to the folks who write here at Poetic Asides. My mama told me if I had faith I’d find my people sooner or later. Right again! Thank you for your sweet response.

  5. lsteadly

    Jane, I always look forward to reading your work and now I know why I am especially drawn – the whole music connection is the same for me. That, and the fact that poems are a “way of remembering, a way of being in the world”. And I, like you, feel the need to be true. You are a true poet, in all senses. Thank you for sharing this, and all of your poems, with us!

  6. PressOn

    Jane, your love of words and music resonates throughout this piece; it flows like the swells of the sea. I’ve been in awe of your work for a long time, and now I think I understand why: through your friend, perhaps, you have become our friend..

    1. Jane Shlensky

      Bill, you make me want to cry–but I won’t. I do feel this friendship here at this place where writers meet and share. I count that as friendship. Love you, man.

  7. Anthony94

    Re-reading your piece in the quiet of earliest morning, so much resonates: staircase and safety net, marching tune and lullaby. While I found I could not write the way I wanted to and teach with my whole heart, I am glad it worked for you and your students!! They were blessed to have such a poet as their teacher, and so are we!!

    1. Jane Shlensky

      Oh, you’re so right about teaching and writing. I did little more than make notes and write when my students were writing, but it helped me keep my hand in until I could commit more to my writing. Ten minutes is still better than nothing, no? Thanks, Anthony

  8. Walter J Wojtanik

    Jane, you are this poet’s poet. We all write for our own reasons, but you stated it concisely. Sometimes we don’t know how to not write. Forever love your work and your passion. We battle similar demons, but we will persevere one word at a time!


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