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Monday, April 25, 2016


One of the methods I've used to learn more about writing poetry is to copy a poem by someone else, then study how that poet created the images and made the poem work. It sounds simple, but isn't.

I copy the poem longhand and leave every second line blank. Then I make several photocopies and use the pages as study work sheets. I begin by going over the poem line by line and making my own notes in the blank spaces about what happens and how in the poem; what metaphors are used and how they are working together; how the sounds of the words echo each other and echo the sense of the line, and any additional ideas this study process creates. This is a messy but fruitful project. I end up with many pages of notes.

Sometimes I learn something new about how to write, the importance of enjambment for example, the uniqueness of where the poetic line ends, or keeps hanging until the next line.

Sometimes this process leads me to a poem of my own. This poem "Brother" is loosely based on Ted Kooser's poem "Mother" from Delights and Shadows.

(after Ted Kooser's poem "Mother" from Delights and Shadows)

Late August already, and the mountain ash
sways, weighted with fruit, clusters of orange.
Colour so bright, it stops my breath.

You have been gone thirty years today
and have missed my two marriages and one long
divorce. I sat in that smothering house,
restrained inside my own ribs, until the memory
of your words pulled me out

Late goldfinches exchange ragged feathers
for fearless wings. Hydrangeas bloom.
Sturdy white blossoms deepen dusky pink.
This season bursts into the one coming
and the air is delicious.

This poem was published in The Nashwaak Review, Volume 34/35, the Summer/ Fall Issue of 2015. Thanks to TNR for this opportunity and permission to share.

For additional information on Ted Kooser, click here. For a copy of Delights and Shadows, click on the title.

The photos and poems on my blog are copyright 2014-2016 Carol Steel, unless otherwise noted.


Jane Tims said...

Your method is very instructive. I think translation of poems must be a learning experience also. Your careful study shows in your work. The image of the goldfinch exchanging its feathers is perfect for this time of year! Jane

Carol Steel said...

Thank you for feedback, Jane. The exchange of feathers happens also in the fall when the last nestlings of late summer grow into their adult feathers. I have learned much from my careful study of the work of others. The tricky part is finding my own voice and my own way through to becoming a poet.

Rinske said...

I have been following your blog since 2009- I admire you so much for working so hard - and becoming what you truly are - a poet. I remember how excited you were with your antique desk, your space to write, your notebooks and pens and beautiful photographs.

Carol Steel said...

Thanks for your comment and support with this writing journey. I have been attentive to my poetry to the detriment of my blog posting and hope to address that imbalance soon. Thank you for your kind remarks.