by Marnie Pomeroy
At age six I produced a pair of rhyming quatrains. Around age twelve I happened across a book of Alfred Noyes’ poems, a revelation that started me on this double life: privately combusting as I began to discover the arts; publicly trying not too hard to fit with society.
My early poems, mostly in iambic pentameter, were heavy-duty descriptive, loaded with every synonym I could find in a thesaurus also gleefully happened across. A few years later, Emily Dickinson’s poems showed me how images create poetry, not piled-on adjectives.
Poems still come the way they always have, sliding into my head, first as a phrase or line or two. Later, I feel my way forward from those words, rewriting each version from beginning to end, numbered and saved, until the poem feels finished, although I still treat every one as open-ended. Very occasionally, I get a sense of wanting to discharge a special feeling about some subject or other, almost like wanting to sneeze, and a poem comes out whole needing no tinkering.
Since most of my poems settle into four- or five-beat lines, the feet iambic, I worry about becoming formulaic, so I sometimes try out shorter or longer lines or free verse, varying the feet, while sounding everything in my head by habit.
Poetry is an intensifier. Although it comes most fully alive when declaimed — even silently in the mind, for some of us it flares out in the unexpected joining of two words, and the mere glance at a favourite poem on a page can spark us up. For many others, poetry is respected, even enjoyed, but not life-giving. For most, it remains a puzzling variation of prose.
Writing poems helps integrate whatever presses upon us. It also pleasures, records, shares, gives due, celebrates, and consoles. What can poems do for humanity or for the world? They can encourage, remind, and warn. I’m no activist, but long ago I wrote a warning about our overcrowded earth. It ends:
…when snarling neighbours are buried wall by wall
deeper in skyscrapers; when sons and daughters
who have no windows plead for stronger pills
to enter the lost woods, the pine-green waters.
Poetry makes the most susceptible of us tumble down the rabbit hole. It grants us magic eyes. Like a drug it opens new dimensions. We can be transported by awe, as when entering a cave where our lantern brings to life a stampede of prehistoric horses flowing across the wall — art that is still unequalled.
Stone, paint, music, and words can always renew what has become overfamiliar and immortalize what we love. Note that poems never break, fade, or go out of tune, and keep full and fresh. But they have a great handicap. While sculptures, paintings, and music are international, poems — untranslatable — stop at their linguistic borders. A poem does have this advantage, though: Like a tune, everyone can own it. The poem you possess in print, in manuscript, or best of all in memory, is solidly yours.