How I Write: a Walk Through

I like to write first thing in the morning before the rest of the family is awake. I make a tall cup of coffee and sit down at the kitchen table and write and write. If I am lucky, I will have a poem or two in the making within the first 15 to 30 minutes. If I have been writing for a long time and I have yet to strike inspiration, I go back and reread the words that I have written looking for an image that came up in my writing and I expand on it.

For example, in the first line of the last paragraph I used the image “morning” along with “tall cup of coffee” and “kitchen table.” I could take these images and expand them into something like:

With the white frost of morning on the window lighting in the first rays of the sun, I sit down to watch the steam rise off the cup of coffee in my tall white coffee mug. The rim of the cup where I sip from is stained the same brown as the peanut butter in the sandwich sitting next to it on cheap plastic card table where I eat most of my meals.

Typically, expanding on this image until it creates connections or connotations to other thoughts or ideas and I follow that rabbit hole as far as it goes. And as for my example above, the cheap card table and the peanut butter sandwich breakfast make this feel like a story about someone who has little money, and the frost on the window as well as the steam rising off the coffee along with the possibility that the speaker of the poem is poor makes it likely that there is no heat on in his or her house, so I could expand the narrative with those ideas in mind.

I pull my right hand out of the pocket of my tattered foul weather jacket and warm my fingers on the cup before grabbing the handle to take my first sip. The day was much calmer than last night when the wind had the boat bumping against the dock and rocking me to a fitful sleep of remembrance.

Now, as you can see the narrative has changed to show that speaker lives cheaply in a boat so I am going to have to go back and change the word “window” to “porthole” to match the nautical theme. And we also learn that this speaker has a story to tell. And the story along with the tattered jacket makes me believe that this person is on the older side rather than just being broke from being young and just starting out.

I can see that there is a lot more of this poem to write, but this post is getting kind of long so I will take what I have written so far and format it into poem form and finish the rest of the narrative at a later date. But for now, I am going to format the poem as a sonnet and again as a string of tanka so I can compare the resulting poems and decide which one I am going with as the final piece.

The sonnet is a poem comprised of 14 lines with 5 metrical feet. A metrical foot consists of two syllables. One syllable is supposed to be accented while the other is not, but I don’t worry about that. I find that if you write enough sonnets you start to learn how to write in a pleasing rhythm even if it is not the traditional “Da-dum, Da-dum, Da-dum, Da-dum, Da-dum” rhythm. Also, sonnets traditionally rhyme, but I don’t worry about that either. And the content of the sonnet is supposed to follow certain conventions, but I let my story decide how to use the form rather letting the form decide for me how to tell my story.

With the morning frost lighting the porthole

In the first rays of sun, I sit down to

Watch steam rise off the coffee in my

White mug. The rim is stained the same brown as

The peanut butter in the sandwich that

Sits next to it on the old card table

Where I eat most of my meals. Pulling my

Right hand out from the worn pocket of my

Foul weather jacket, I warm my fingers

On the cup before taking my first sip

To shake off the lingering grip of dreams.

The day was much calmer than last night when

The wind bumped the boat against the dock and

Rocked me to sleep in fitful remembrance.

The tanka poem is the taller cousin to the haiku. It has 5 lines. The first and the third lines are 5 syllables long, and the second, fourth, and fifth lines are 7 syllables long.  Tanka are typically about nature, and somewhere around the third line, the poem is supposed to take a turn. But at least no one expects it to rhyme, so I don’t have to break that rule. Often you see tanka as single stanza poems, but there is no rule against linking them together in a string.

The frost lighting the

Porthole in the first rays of

Sun, I watch steam rise

Off the coffee in my white

Mug with its rim stained the same

 

Brown as the peanut

Butter in the sandwich that

Sits next to it on

The card table where I eat

My meals. I pull my right hand

 

Out of the pocket

Of my tattered foul weather

Jacket and warm my

Fingers on the cup before

Grabbing the handle to take

 

A sip. The day was

Much calmer than last night when

The wind bumped the boat

Against the dock and rocked me

To a sleep of remembrance.

For both forms, I had to make several changes to get the words to fit the meter of the lines. After condensing the text down quite a bit for the sonnet, I found that I only had 13 lines so I had to come up with another 10 syllable line which really seems to reinforce the narrative. But the tanka reads stronger because of the rhythm imposed by the layout of the line breaks.

While both the sonnet and the string of tanka have their benefits and drawbacks, I think I like the sonnet is better because of the extra line about shaking off the grip of dreams. So I will leave you with the sonnet as the final version of this installment of this poem.

 

With the morning frost lighting the porthole

In the first rays of sun, I sit down to

Watch steam rise off the coffee in my

White mug. The rim is stained the same brown as

The peanut butter in the sandwich that

Sits next to it on the old card table

Where I eat most of my meals. Pulling my

Right hand out from the worn pocket of my

Foul weather jacket, I warm my fingers

On the cup before taking my first sip

To shake off the lingering grip of dreams.

The day was much calmer than last night when

The wind bumped the boat against the dock and

Rocked me to sleep in fitful remembrance.

 

What do you think?

 

Which do you think is the stronger poem the sonnet or the tanka?

 

Do you like this type of post where I explain the decisions I make while writing a poem? Should I write more posts like this one?

 

Also, please visit my contact page and send me ideas for future posts.

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9 thoughts on “How I Write: a Walk Through

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