The Poetry Paintbrush Can Write Your Life

it began for me with Sylvia Plath’s Edge

Soap Bubble, Color, Colorful, Iridescent, Kunterbunt
Pixabay, No attribution required

I am thinking of my favorite paintbrush — poetry 🖌

My first experience with loving the poetic word was in a high school literature class when my teacher assigned us to choose a poem and deliver a short speech about it to our class. The poem I chose was Sylvia Plath’s Edge.

…odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.

— Edge, Sylvia Plath

There was something so deeply disturbing, yet profoundly magical, in that poem. I was drawn inexorably to those words.

I began writing creatively in high school and poetry as early as 16. A Tale of Two Poems is an article I wrote featuring two of the poems I wrote in high school. And, I don’t think they are too terrible. 😉

Poetry is a living, breathing element of my being, the tool by which I choose to express parts of me I dare others to attempt to understand.

It is my favorite tool, and as I choose to paint, and I paint with words. What poetry means to another individual is completely unique and right in its own way as all of us are touched and moved by it in varying ways.

Despite my initial attraction to poetry, at times writing it has eluded me, the brushes remaining in a dusty cup on a shelf in the corner of life. As a child, I was compelled to pick up this brush and sit with it in my hand, yet no poem would pour out of its colorless brushes.

As I have grown into my adult skin I have both lived and consumed and observed the colors of life that fill my brush again and again.

This gives me means by which to splash myself onto paper, eternalizing that which could otherwise be washed away in time. I have learned through the years that sometimes I write the poem, and sometimes the poem writes me.

Poetry can breath itself into us, painting our souls with richness, emotion, clarity, and a whole range of other reactions, or it can be bled out of us, inviting others to grasp its music and its colors with canvases of their own waiting to be filled.

Consider the poetry in your life. Consider the paintbrushes with which you write. And always seek to fill those brushes with wondrous color.


Originally published here: Paintbrushes Article

Learn to Write Better Poetry

a lesson

Poetry, Poetry Album, Old, Font, Poem, Saying, Memory
Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay 

If there’s anything I’ve learned about writing poetry, it’s that you’re never done learning how to do it. Anytime I find a new angle, a new inspiration, or technique, it feels like my first day as a poet all over again. I pick up my imaginary feather quill, dip it in my imaginary pot of magical ink, and I write.

So get out your imaginary quill and take a few notes. Perhaps there are a few poems waiting for you to birth them. Here are a few ideas that do not come from any book I’ve read or class I’ve taken, but from my quill, and the bend my mind takes while rounding new corners to find poetry.

Let’s talk syzygy.

(Ok so I learned a new word today and couldn’t resist adding it in…)

noun, plural syz·y·gies.

1. Astronomy . an alignment of three celestial objects, as the sun, the earth, and either the moon or a planet: Syzygy in the sun-earth-moon system occurs at the time of full moon and new moon.

2. Classical Prosody . a group or combination of two feet, sometimes restricted to a combination of two feet of different kinds.

3. any two related things, either alike or opposite.

We will consider the third definition of syzygy. Two examples will help to explain.

Parallel Syzygy Poem

The first example, I call parallel poetry writing. In this technique you will follow this equation:

Equation: an object, a living being, or a train of thought + an action = new poem

Rule: The first item, being, or thought will be the actual topic of your poem but you will borrow imagery and descriptive words from the action you have chosen. The two will be similar in some way so that the comparison isn’t too forced, uncomfortable, confusing, or stark.

Here is an example of a poem that I wrote using this method:

thoughts of a child + swinging on a swing = Yesterdays

As you can see, there are easy similarities to be drawn between a child and the action of swinging and the two are easily pictured in the same scene.

Here is the poem for quick reference:

Yesterdays

Why don’t you climb inside
my braids and sing
me a song?

swinging
out over the grasses
our feet stretched so high
the chain-link grinds
as we rise
toward
sun

Why don’t you open up your
freckles and let
me inside?

I need
to know where
the June bugs hide in the winter
when swings don’t swing
and the night
stands
still

Consider the first stanza; these are the silly things you’d find bouncing around inside of the head of a happy child, lost in imaginative play. This theme carries throughout the poem as this child contemplates freckles and friendship, June bugs and their wanderings.

The action of swinging is evident as expressed in stanza two. Listen to the sound of the chain link grinding on the pole as this child swings. There’s also an interesting twist to this poem with regards to the structure…swinging out and back in with the line lengths, to mimic the pattern of swinging.

Juxtaposed Syzygy Poem

Now for the second example, I call juxtaposed poetry writing. You will, again, follow this equation:

Equation: an object, a living being, or a train of thought + an action = new poem

Rule: The first item, being, or thought will be the actual topic of your poem but you will borrow imagery and descriptive words from the action you have chosen. The two things will have very little, if anything, in common.

Here is an example of a poem I wrote using this method:

thoughts on being a poet + the cleaning of a fish (butchering) =The Poet Cleaning

Here is the poem for quick reference:

The Poet Cleaning

Ripped from the belly of the sea
pregnant with vowels
our tails slap hard
pendulous swings,
our eyes are benign, panicked moons,
fibroadenomas
sitting inside our heads.

They must be plucked out.

We climb outside ourselves,
hold the knife steady,
scrape against the grain,
shedding our silvers
until we are clean,
carve a canoe-slice across our necks
another, neck to belly,
our insides slide free.

This poem is about the vulnerability of being a poet. The poet must open up parts of themselves, sometimes very personal, with raw honesty. Now consider the action. Have you ever seen the cleaning of a fish? If you have not it is a violent really kind of gross thing to see. The knife scraping the scales away (called the “silvers” in this poem), and slicing off the head, cutting the length of the belly the fishes guts spill out in a slippery glub. The panicked eyes are wide.

I described the writer process using the terminology, visual images, and description of a fish cleaning process to show that opening process the poet does while writing. We dig pretty deep when writing poetry — our insides slide free.

One would not normally think of these two things at the same time, but the metaphor sits well in this poem, giving it richness, depth, and provokes an emotional reaction in the reader.

Now, anyone want to give it a try?

Choose either of the above methods and write your poem. Link back here so I can see what you create!

“And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”

― Anaïs Nin


Christina Ward is a poet and aspiring author working on her first book, a piece of literary, mainstream fiction, and is a columnist for the Observer News Enterprise newspaper. Her poetry has been published in the Cameo literary magazine, the Arrowhead literary magazine, Vita Brevis Poetry Magazine, and in Wolff Poetry Literary Magazine.

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Swallow Me Whole

a poem of Contemplation

Image from Pixabay

Beneath this earth
so many souls. In this ground
right where I stand,
my bare-heeled ache on the grit;
do they linger here?

Do their solemn hazes pass me by 
as my breath drifts me
one day to the next?
Am I aware of
that chill, that pressure in the air
shifting, disturbing,
a moaning whisper to my
human ears?
Does it shift me?

I turned on the light
I asked you to leave

In the pierce of afternoon sun
an oak; a bleak, towering,
ivy-choked oak.
An angular ghost.
The last leaf fell long before
I appeared, a shifting soul, 
nowhere to go.
I contemplate its lean.

When comes the terrible fall?
When comes the violent creaking
that will rip me from my sleep?

Sudden noises — squirrel-gray 
antics on maple boughs,
on living, bending boughs or dead
bark-bare and bony limb; 
no difference to them,
with their inexorable ramblings
all toenail and chatter.
They gather and they gather.

How soon will I sink into 
worm-foul and rot?

They will scurry across my grave.
They, or their generations of they.

The dead tree refusing to fall…
These wiry-tailed rodents’ gatherings…
These shadows of souls carried quietly by…
and I?
Barefooted, sore-footed I;
standing in the dirt
left to ponder it all.

How soon will this earth
swallow me whole?

At Home Amongst These

a poem

https://www.pexels.com/photo/nature-grass-mushrooms-amanita-33695/

The squishy-cool green beneath my feet
meandering before me, a path between trees.
The bright arms of the sun reaching down,
fingers of light, bringing growth to the ground.
 
I can no longer get lost this way.
 
I have come again. I wander again
through the moss-strewn aisle
in gripping fear and anxiety-laden… 
I know they’ll be lost if I wander awhile.

I have been here too often.

The moss knows each tentative step
each catch in my breath, I gift my tears
falling softly from my chin, a tender
sprinkling of salt drains away my fears.

The trees creak with the breeze,
interrupting me, reminding me
of the cellular world, uptake of nutrient
the vascular world outside of me.

I stoop and take note of basidiophytes,
all dome-topped and mysterious,
the feathery gills underneath
each whisper-soft and musty fungus.
 
Worry melts from me as I picture
beneath them the faeries and gnomes 
in secret they watch my bare feet pad by
giggles on breezes drift up from their homes.

They remember my name. I am sure of it.

I find a cool spot to stretch and to lay
my back in the moss, a bryophyte bliss
works its way through my bones, my skin
prickles and settles, I’ve so missed this.
 
This tender release. 

If I lie here for a moment
in sweet rest, in soft sphagnum hug, 
with the sun shining warmly… 
with whispering friends, meandering bugs.
 
I’ll rest and release, breathe in, out…
the world will make sense to me again.

Oh, sing to me.


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Hunger

a poem

https://www.rawpixel.com/image/426941/grizzly-bear-roaming-through-yellowstone-national-park-united-states

I had a vision.
A pole; horizontal, unmoving.
Suspended from it — carrion
in varying stages of 
decomposition;

One, freshly hung
drips its life blood free
drip…drip…drip…
 
Another, rotting
begun, its surface writhes
with maggots and flies.

The third is rot-worn
black, a carcass shell
or its former self.

The three hanging there 
just out of reach, as are most
things when you are hungry.
 
A bear, standing on two legs
angrily reaching one sharp-clawed
swipe after another roaring swipe
menacing arcs cutting the sky
just out of reach,
just out of reach.

I don’t want to be this bear.
 
Sad thing.
Always reaching 
for the depleting,
the constantly wearing, 
disintegrating, withering
dreams cut short
just hanging there…
dreams dripping in the sun.
No, that is not for me.

I do not want to be this bear,
pathetic hungry beast
reaching for the despaired,
decaying and wormed away by 
the negative and the bleak,
gnawing, stealing, tearing
dreams disappearing,
eaten away in the sun.

I do not want to be
this hungry animal reaching
for the rotten, the black
the ghosts of dreams
the illusion of dreams
the dreams that used to exist.

I want to be a different beast.
A noble, beast of wanderlust
and curiosity, broad-shouldered
thick-backed and wiry
and feasting on berries
plump with juice and seed
paws-full gathered in the 
bliss of the sun and breeze.
The work is of no mind.
A belly can be filled with 
the small, if there are many.

want to chase after the living,
the sprinting and darting deer, eyes
frozen wide with fury and fear…
devouring the fresh
flesh-dream full of muscle
and blood pumping full
of organic desire, of 
opportunity racing, raging into
life, unabashed.

I had a vision, or perhaps
a vision has me. A sharp-clawed 
roar impels me.


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A Soul Set Free

a poem

Seven Butterflies Illustration
https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-art-artist-artistic-133170/

Lift up your face.
You, there in the shadows,
Head hanging in disgrace.

There is no reason
to sit full of fear, to shackle
yourself to yesterday’s woes.

There is no reason
to feel rooted to guilt
and shame no one knows.

No reason to hold yourself
back from all things wonderful
all things beautiful and freeing…

No reason for you to be in disgrace.
You, there in the shadows,
Lift up your face.



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Ladybug Journeys

a poem of a quiet afternoon

https://www.pexels.com/photo/close-up-photo-of-ladybug-on-leaf-during-daytime-121472/

A ladybug journeys
 up Hawkweed stem
 searching for another

Dark-spotted red bug
 with which to fly high
 the ladybug labors on…

A squirrel scampers
 through leaf litter and soil
 searching for another

Nut she had buried 
 some time ago Spring
 the squirrel labors on…

Chickadee and titmouse
 nuthatch and goldfinch
 searching for another

Black sunflower seed
 or millet or worm
 the birds labor on…

I absorb the sun 
 I notice their sounds
 each searching for another

While creatures toil and fret
 and summer besets
 I, thankful, rest on…


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The Waters Run Clean Through Me

a poem about the North Carolina Mountains

https://www.pexels.com/photo/bench-cascade-creek-environment-355321/

Deep in the North Carolina wood
 nestled between steep mountainous 
 rises, a gorge, through which run
 waters, crisp and cool and clean.

A bench waits there for my soul.

The waters run clear, cross rock
 and moss, with dribbling sounds
 and meandering thoughts of the
 distant seas. The canopy hangs over.
 
 Shady oasis of quietude waits
 for me to climb into its folds.
 A genteel hug whispered through green
 to wrap me up in wonder once again.

A hike for a day, I must go.

I’ll climb on the rock, spread 
 my wings to gather the sun
 rub my toes in sphagnum
 hear the cool-water melody flow…

Oh, Carolina, you are good to my soul.

Let the breeze sway and creak in the pines!
 May the babbling waters find their gentle way
 and the mockingbirds ramble song to song,
 let your nature carry its secrets on.


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Seed to Earth–an Environmental Poem

a poem of life

sunflower field

https://unsplash.com/photos/pF_2lrjWiJE

Fruit trees drop them one, two, three…we twist some free.
Flesh-juice skinned; we wipe the sugary
dribble from our chins.

Time melts flesh from the fallen in weathered decay,
seed to earth to green in the flowering
seasonal swing of things
life continues still.

Pine trees drop them one, two three…
serotinous and resin-rich, pregnant with seed,
Flame sets them free!
Bud scales open petal-wide, exposing knobby core.

Life springs from ash, the earth peeled clean
blackened trunks rising like pillars of ghosts,
awaiting wing and chirp and beak.
Some birds prefer to nest in post-fire trees.

Time heals the scorched, the black, the white-ash grays
to leak green and leaf forth in the wake of flame
growth anew and spirit churning
Life continues, still.



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Cottonwood Wings

a poem for my son to read at the funeral


You might want to read this first



In the Spring, God brings forth life
Cottonwood drifts by on the wind.
We water our gardens with tears
for we have lost a dear friend.

Her kindness grew like tulips
Proud and colorful and tall
Her compassion, a vine reaching  
our lives and touching us all.

Our beloved Beverly was so
Warm-hearted, sweet, and caring
Loved her family with all her soul
Though cancer, in the end, unsparing.

A kind and quiet woman who
grew like the flowers
and paled into silence
in her last waning hours.

Her Spring was cut short,
Her candle burned low,
in God’s precious time
she knew she must go.

Though it’s hard for us
in this bountiful spring
we let go and know
God’s given her wings.


I was asked to write a poem for my son to read at his Step-mother’s funeral next week.

He is to speak at the funeral, at which time he will read the above poem, no doubt through shaky nerves (to my knowledge this will be his first “public speaking” engagement), and through a heavy wall of emotion. He is with-holding so much emotion about this whole thing.

As a mother, my heart is breaking for him. He has no memories of his life prior to her entering it. It is a terrible loss. How in the world do you honor that in a poem? Yet, this is the task I was given.

To make it simple enough for the country-folk family members to be able to appreciate, make it rhyme so it sounds to them like a poem, make it personal enough that it touches their hearts, Christian enough and reassuring enough so that they are comforted in their time of sorrow.

What an arduous task, but I wanted to do something. And this is what I do–so I hope you have enjoyed reading Cottonwood Wings. I am honored to have written it for my son. (I think it will mean a lot to him.)

(In Memoriam, Beverly Mullis; wife, mother, sister, daughter, grandmother, friend)

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