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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
Find more poetic posts here: