Thursday, January 19, 2017

Observation makes a poem


Poets often think poetry writing requires a heightened imagination, but I don’t usually find that to be true. More likely, a well-written poem takes keen senses and heightened observation –- something we can appreciate and learn with practice.

To do this, simply notice – really notice – what’s going on around. Some call this being present in the moment then capturing what’s there –- something I find especially helpful in writing nature poems.

Yesterday, for example, we took our lunch to a lakeside park where we sat, soaking up the day’s beauty and unseasonably warm weather. However, the deciduous trees along the lake knew we’re still in winter months, and they behaved accordingly.

Looking at them, I remembered that cypress trees turn brown, which always surprises me as I think of them as being evergreen. Nevertheless, they’d turned to rust, and so the thought of their needles rusting came to me, along with the line “The rusty needles.”

To expand that image into something readers might recognize over a sewing kit, I needed the next line to explain that I’m talking about trees in winter, which made…

The rusty needles
of wintering cypress


Observing the present line lengths encouraged me to count syllables, and sure enough, haiku happened. With five syllables on the first line, I only needed another syllable on the second line to round out the traditional seven-syllable count.

5 The rusty needles
7 of wintering cypress trees….


…and then what? They weren’t doing anything but standing there. Or, were they?

Thinking about needles –- with or without rust –- added the thought of sewing, which brought the idea of stitching the lake and sky together. A little tweaking rendered the final five syllables needed for a 5/7/5 traditional haiku form.

The rusty needles
of wintering cypress trees
stitch the lake to sky.


by Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017


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