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Tim Baehr of Menletter: How to Write Poetry

Posted: Tue Oct 30, 2007 9:15 am
by nekot
Tim Baehr is a writer, educator on writing, and founder and editor of Menletter, "an electronic, free, monthly newsletter for men (mostly)."

I really enjoyed Tim's article, How to Write Poetry. I like the simplicity with which he writes and how he describes his own evolution into writing some poetry.

Below is an excerpt from the article which you can view in its entirety here: How to Write Poetry.

".......So I began reading and appreciating poetry - and writing it only very occasionally. One occasion, in fact, was the annual Men's Wisdom Council at Rowe. Larry Murphy, one of the facilitators and a prolific poet, got us to integrate and focus our feelings and experiences and put them on paper. He didn't exactly "teach" poetry; he "encouraged" it. The results, shared among the men, were remarkable.

My output doubled - from one to two poems a year.

What were my roadblocks? Same as for lots of men: I was suspicious of "flowery" language, yet the ordinary stuff didn't sound very "poetic." I felt I had nothing to write about (except in extraordinary circumstances like the intensity and safety of the Council). My attempts during the "ordinary" part of the year ended up in the trash - too sentimental, too awkward.

Then something happened. Or a few things, actually.

I had been writing, but not poetry. In fact, I've been writing for pay for over 30 years: textbooks for grade-school students, newsletters, technical documentation, and the like. My "recreational" writing was essays - fillers for the back page of a church newsletter.

I began to write about certain aspects of my life, things like memories of my dad or adventures I had as a kid. One of the first pieces was a poem (written at Wisdom Council) about my oldest son, but you could have unwound all the lines and stuck them together, and it would have read like an essay or short story. The language was plain. Nothing rhymed. I paid a little attention to the rhythm of the words and tried to make the images sharp, but that was about it for poetic technique.

One essay, about a year later, was about my dad. I sent it to my brother, and he wrote back that the piece sure sounded like Dad, but it would work better as a poem. Aw, shit. Somebody telling me - a writer - how to write. Well, his reasoning was pretty good: By dividing the essay into shorter lines, I would be forcing the reader's focus on particular thoughts. I tried it. Damn if it didn't work. I started carrying around a little notebook to jot down half-remembered phrases, brain residue from childhood, stuff I heard on the radio.

So now I write more, a couple poems a month on the average. It's not much, but they add up. And I learned a couple things that you might find helpful.

1. What to write about. You. Your life. What you see, hear, smell, feel, remember from ten minutes ago or ten years ago.

2. How to write it. One way is to start with a single image or idea and see where it takes you. .............. Use some poets' tricks of the trade. Repeat sounds, words, and lines for emphasis. Pay attention to the rhythm of the words and maybe the music in them. For instance, if you begin a few words with the same sound, you create a different kind of image. "I was unwise, overweight, and middle-aged" might become "I was foolish, fat, and fifty." This sometimes happens later, when you're editing or rewriting. For first drafts, it may help to just write as if you were taking notes for your own use.

3. Who(m) to write for. You. Only you. No one ever has to see what you write, so you are your most important reader. If you can satisfy yourself, no one else matters. But you may be surprised when you share your poetry and see other men nodding their heads in recognition.

4. Where and when to write. Any time, any place. I find it useful to carry a small spiral-bound notebook and some sticky notes. I want to be able to rip out a page I don't like or crumple up a sticky note when I make a false start.

5. What to write. This is different from "what to write about." Write short stuff, long stuff, single impressions, whole remembrances. Write prose or poetry; it doesn't matter. I always had the attitude that I had to get things perfect in my head before I wrote anything down. If that works for you, fine. But I changed, and now I write stuff, sometimes literally "stuff" that I know I'll change.

6. How to keep focus. Shorten. I've almost never written anything that couldn't be made shorter and more vivid. Wait a week and look at something you've written. Is there one essential truth in your essay or poem? Is it hidden by other stuff around it? Yank out the good stuff and polish it. Keep the other stuff as raw materials for another poem.

7. How to get at the truth. Lie. Sometimes you can get closer to the truth by bending it a bit. It may be as simple as changing the location, time of day, color of the car, and so on. Or you may want to add a detail or character from some other event. Make connections. ..........................

8. Why to do it. To get at the truth. Your truth. To create a record of your life. To make connections. (Sometimes the process of writing itself is very revealing.) To remember what you did and thought. (One of my short poems is about driving my son to school. We were silent. He was using his electric shaver. That's all that happened. In ten years I can read that poem and recreate the moment.)......

Here is a little more about Tim Baehr and Menletter:
Menletter: October, 2007

Check it out. I like what I've read so far. :thumbsup:

Re: Tim Baehr of Menletter: How to Write Poetry

Posted: Thu Nov 08, 2007 8:12 pm
by Jade
Thank you for posting this. It was very interesting.

Re: Tim Baehr of Menletter: How to Write Poetry

Posted: Sat Nov 10, 2007 9:42 am
by bags123
Sounds like a guy from generation "why". I thought they all died out years ago. :book: