National Poetry Month: poemcrazy: Listening to Ourselves

Small Occasions

When I was in high school, my sister and I hosted a party for Davy Crockett’s birthday. We sent out invitations inscribed with some sort of amusing tale and served appropriate frontier refreshments. We distributed bandannas and headbands to our guests, divided into opposing teams for a lively game of Cowboys and Indians on our side lawn.

It made the local paper, though in fairness I should say I was a columnist for the Milbank Herald Advance so if they didn’t cover it I would have. And in even more fairness I should say that you can get your name in my local paper for pouring coffee at somebody’s afternoon club meeting.

And three decades later, I still remember Davy Crockett was born on August 17.

In poemcrazy, Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge suggests that poems can be “small occasions” we make from everyday events much the way her friend creates small occasions from events as simple as a full moon or a hike or a celebration of an author’s birthday. I imagine she’d be alright with a festive celebration of a folk hero’s birthday as well.

Sometimes we think poems need to be about important, dramatic moments. The events of our lives seem mundane. Often the small occasions in the front or back yard are the most magical. We just need to notice and then create a way to experience and enjoy this ordinary magic. (p. 45)

Listening to Ourselves

Even as I relate that story I hesitate, feeling mildly self-conscious. “I’ve told all my interesting stories already,” I mutter, as I resort to an account of an ethnically insensitive party thrown by a seventeen-year-old. “Folks will grow weary of me talking about myself.” Wooldridge counters this impulse, suggesting we must “start with ourselves before we can reach beyond ourselves.” She goes on to describe the work that poems do to “reveal who we are:”

Poems aren’t simply bits of art to be whittled to perfection and admired and revered. They’re ground troopers with laser beams illuminating caverns within. They can bring messages from and about our deepest selves, broadening our respect and reverence for who we are. (p. 52)

In a practice exercise, she invites us to talk about ourselves, answering a series of “what are you?” questions from a color to a piece of furniture, then crafting a poem by combining the answers with our growing word pool. I played through some discomfort with the exercise, and came out with the following, keeping in mind her directive to “just pile on words. Don’t think.”

I’m the number three, a red ’71
Toyota Corolla wagon,
rusted floorboards shaking
down the street. I’m an oak board,
the color of the lightest grain.
I’m a bleeping dog, a burning
murmur, a requiem sung
in the storm at sea. I’m afraid
of exposure, of leaving my own skin
out in the open cold.
I’m the desk
where you sit, hidden
behind the cataracts,
not able to say out loud
the word behind my eyes,
not today.

Places Can Inspire Poetry

Wooldridge quotes Walt Whitman on writing as saying, “Unscrew the locks from the doors. Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” Just upstairs from that side lawn where we celebrated the small occasion of Davy Crockett’s birthday was my bedroom, a room without a door. This was the room my mind drifted to when she asked to think of a place that has “the mystery or beauty of a poem to you” and list the details that make it so.

Layer upon layer
putty brown paper peels
to the plaster       Stocking feet slide
on polished oak floor boards
Naked bulb hangs
on a twisted white cord
from exposed lath       Cheap stereo
in white painted closet churns
out The Association
and Chicago on black vinyl
sticking sometimes
like the record’s broken
The white closet and I
know our secrets

Coyote Mischief

My missing bedroom door may have kept me out of trouble as a youngster. But Wooldridge wants us to believe, though it may become harder to recognize as we grow older and more settled, that “We all have a troublemaker inside ourselves.” She speaks of the coyote, mischief-maker of the American Indian, who, “like poetry, is both naughty and heroic at the same time.” Poetry can give us a means to live a relatively ordered and tame existence while letting a (necessary) wildness emerge in our writing. “The strangest, most renegade part of ourselves can be expressed in a poem while we sit quietly in our kitchen or bedroom.”

“This,” she says, “Can save our lives.”


We’re reading poemcrazy: freeing your life with words together this month at Tweetspeak. Are you reading along? Perhaps you’d tell us in the comments your thoughts about Part 2: Listening to Ourselves or any practice exercises you did. Maybe you would even share a poem that came out of this week’s reading. If you post about the book on your blog, feel free to drop a link to your post in the comments.

And don’t forget to check out other fun and interesting National Poetry Month events at our Ticket Counter, especially the new Phone Poets Project with Diode’s Patty Paine.

Buy poemcrazy and join in the fun. For next Wednesday, we’ll read Part 3: Hi There Stars.

Photo by Seyed Mostafa Zamani, Creative Commons, via Flickr. Post by Lyla Willingham Lindquist.


Buy a year of Every Day Poems, just $5.99 — Read a poem a day, become a better poet. In April we’re exploring the theme Dragons and Creatures.

Every Day Poems Driftwood


  1. L. L. Barkat says

    I love your poems. The play on the number 3 was perfect, youngest child you are.

    I really do get the feeling, when you write your poems, that they save your life. I wonder if all the writing I do, poems or not, save mine.

    • says

      Funny, because I didn’t think about why I put down the number 3 on my list until I was putting the poem together, and then I thought the same, it was youngest of 3. :)

      They have a saving quality for me, I think. Have you decided yet, if your writing saves yours? 😉

  2. says

    Lyla, this is really special…

    My copy of poemcrazy just came yesterday so I am off to read and catch up. I’m quite sure I’ll see you there.

  3. says

    I like the visually rich poem you made from your word pool, Lyla, and how you connect those initial images, what’s open to those natural elements, to the line “I’m afraid of exposure….” – a nice turn there in the poem before bringing us to the remaining images of hiding, being mute, etc. The interjection of “where you sit” gives the emotions a shared quality, bringing the reader into the feelings many of us know.

    Your Crockett celebration must have been fun!

    The use as example of the missing bedroom door that would seem to prevent secrets and its contrast with the interior life we all have and that often is hidden from even those we live with is excellent.

  4. says

    That first Woolridge quote. And I’m thinking of dingy suds, for some reason. 😉

    There was such a thing as a Corolla wagon? I grew up in a family of 7, and we had a big white Ford LTD. We still refer to it as “the boat.” Since I was the youngest, I sat up front between my parents while the other four squeezed in back.

    And the bit about the coyote got me thinking about Wile E. Coyote. He was a big part of my life at the same time “the boat” was.

    • says

      Yes, there was a Corolla wagon. And yes, I drove it to school without floorboards on the driver’s side. And yes, if you went through a puddle a little too fast, well, you get the picture. It was known amongst my classmates as the Fred Flintstone car.

      We had a big green Buick Electra that could have rivaled your boat, I think. Interesting the way our family cars transport so many memories.

      Do you relate to Wile E’s antics?

  5. says

    “…I’m afraid
    of exposure, of leaving my own skin…” Shivers!

    The the yin/yang of “…relatively ordered and tame existence while letting a (necessary) wildness emerge…” is, for me, a reoccurring theme. Have you read Eric Maisel’s “Fearless Creating”?

    “For a person to live authentically, her wildness must be harnessed and managed by her tameness but her tameness must be confronted and displaced by her wildness… A wild person with a calm mind can make anything.” ~Eric Maisel

    It’s a pendulum swing
    slicing time
    the merry middle
    of life,
    this learning how to behave…
    Not nearly so Molly
    made by family life, a little less
    and more than ever grateful
    for the field of dandelion chains
    that wait, still,
    in early morning excursions;
    and me, here
    AND there
    forever blessedly stuck on the train
    of finding
    something new.

    Thank you, Lyla, for being a link in my chain this morning; for adding to my life by sharing your “ordinary” magic and inspiring this poem.


    • says

      This is wonderful, Moya. I’m glad you joined us. I’ll have to check out the Maisel title.

      How do you see that happening — tameness and wildness managing one another? Seems it would be quite seamless, simultaneous.

      • says

        Thank you, Lyla, for your warm welcome!

        As to how I see balancing tameness and wildness:
        You have a good point! As one aspect influences the other, a simultaneous exchange is entirely possible. It’s getting to that point that is the real challenge. When and how to harness/manage, confront/displace–be reigned in or unfettered– depends, I think, on the individual; on her need and her intention at any given time. For me, it’s a lifelong process of learning. A little more this way. A little more that.
        It’s a pendulum swing… 😉

        Making me think. Thanks for that, too.

    • says

      I have made and used word tickets while teaching writing workshops in public schools and in our homeschool community. I always loved writing poetry, your book helped me to love teaching poetry as well, to love how a kid’s eyes go bright when they get it, when they see that they can be, already are, poets in their lives.

  6. says

    I’ll be checking in every few days. Tickled to see all this. Off to the mountain town of Susanville tomorrow for a workshop at lassen library…wish you all could be there.
    Love, Susan xoxoxo

  7. says

    I guess I’m slow commenting/discussing/mostly lurking, but I’ve been seriously enjoying this book. It seems to slide so well into the “playing with words” spirit of Tweetspeak.

    Haven’t tried any of the exercises yet though…. except maybe going for a lunch break walk and starting a little word pool. (which by the way, this book is a great little lunchtime read. Poetry at work? yes! :))

    Thanks for giving me a good excuse to bump it up on my to-read list! I bought it months ago… :)


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