Operation Poetry Dare: Poetry Brain

“It’s easy,” my son says. “Anyone can do it.”

I watch as he sits at the piano, music flowing from his heart and soul straight through to his fingertips. He’s taken formal lessons and been trained in music theory, but sometimes the music just seems to pour through him as though he’s unable to stop it. He’ll sit at the keyboard and compose his own melodies or improvise on a theme from a movie score or popular radio. Sometimes I think he was born with a jazz brain, and he comprehends all of life through its filter.

My son’s piano teacher, who is a very different sort than Gertrude who labored in vain to instruct me, tried to show me how to improvise on a simple piece of music. She handed me a book which promised to crack open mysteries about chord inversions, left-hand patterns, and various rhythmic styles.

I tried adding little flourishes here and there to songs like Camptown Races and Yankee Doodle, but for the life of me, I could not make myself play notes not written on the page. My brain just doesn’t work like my son’s. His teacher told me I needed to go home, pour myself a glass of wine, lighten up and try again.

I’m wondering if there isn’t such a thing as a poetry brain.

This summer, since accepting the Poetry Dare (reading a poem a day and discussing it with my poetry buddy Megan Willome), I’ve grown comfortable being in the same room with what I once considered an alien life form. I may have even invited the alien to climb up and sit next to me in the good leather chair a time or two when no one was watching. Several who have commented during the course of this series have offered suggestions about how I might begin writing my own poetry.

It’s one thing, becoming friends with an alien life form. Creating my own, however, is an extra-terrestrial of a whole different color.

This project is helping me develop a sense of awe for what poets do with words.  It seems to me they perceive common objects and events in poetic form. They see, hear, and comprehend everyday life, and then translate those experiences using the most exquisite words, shapes, rhythms, and sounds. Poetry seems to flow through their hearts and souls and straight through their fingertips in much the same way music does for my son.

In one of our earliest conversations, Megan and I discussed the poem No More Same Old Silly Love Songs:

When the radio in my car broke I started to notice the trees.
I began to stop exaggerating the color of leaves,
how their reds and oranges needed no wordy embellishment.
I started to open the window and smell the wet pavement
after morning rain. Crows on the phone line,
their blackness and stubborn dignity. I even noticed my hands
gripping the wheel, the small dark hairs, the skin,
the knuckles and the perfect blue veins.

—  Neil Carpathios

“I like the description of the crows as having stubborn dignity,” I wrote to Megan. “Where do you poets come up with phrases like that?”

If shows like American Idol have taught the good people of this country anything, (and, I’ll admit, my premise here is shaky at best) they reveal that not all who believe they can sing truly have a gift.

Can everyone write poetry? Or could it be this gift is reserved for those born with a poetry brain?

“No,” I told my son. “Not everyone can do what you do. It’s not easy.”

Yet I believe there is value in offering piano lessons to anyone who wants them. Though few may win tickets to Hollywood for their singing ability, who among us doesn’t belt out Broadway show tunes in the shower using our best Ethel Merman voice? Just me? Okay then, never mind.

Will I ever accept a dare to write poetry? I don’t know. If I do, I’m sure I’ll need an awfully large glass of wine.

Photo by linh.ngan, Creative Commons via Flickr. Post by Nancy Franson. 

Follow the rest of Nancy and Megan’s journey in Operation Poetry Dare:

Operation Poetry Dare: Introduction
Operation Poetry Dare: I Can’t Dance to It
Operation Poetry Dare: For the Love
Operation Poetry Dare: What a Poetry Buddy is For


Take your own poetry dare? Subscribe to Every Day Poems to receive a poem a day, paired with beautiful art and photography, delivered conveniently to your inbox Monday through Friday. Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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  1. says

    I was talking yesterday with someone who had a tiny box of story dice or story blocks, each one of which has an image. The idea is that each block you choose can become the start or part of a story. We decided the dice would be fun to use in a poetry jam. A poem can be a story; it just trades in images.

    I hope you’ll try your hand at poetry writing. Maybe start in the shower. If singers find their voice there, so, too, might poets.

    • says

      Well, there is magnetic poetry for the refrigerator. Maybe someone could come up with plastic stick-on tiles for the shower?

      All I know is, I’m going to need a lot of hand holding. And wine.

  2. says

    I think you can write a poem! I think you’re trying too hard.
    You just have to tap into that slightly crazy hysterical feeling you get (you get it right?) when you see something in the world that really pushes you (i can’t say MOVES you, it’s more like a shove) or bothers you. You’ll start to think wild thoughts about the ridiculousness of parking tickets in Springtime and suddenly! A POEM! About PINK PAPER and PERSECUTION!
    When in doubt, drink another glass. And forget rules. And forget real words. You have to get a little wild…either wild or really really depressed but if you’re drinking wine I suggest wild.

    • says

      Well JoAnn, you know I can get a little wild–but how to format that into a poem? Could get messy. And ugly. Or ridiculous.

      And somehow, I think your comment above just might be a poem.

  3. Kathryn Neel says

    I’m convinced everyone has poet/artist mind. It just lives in witness protection for its own safety. Our society doesn’t value the poet/artist so it lives in fear for its safety. Only when drugged, drunk or distracted does it show up and once identified pops back into its hole like a bunny.

  4. says

    Write like you normally do, then just play with line breaks:

    Who among us
    doesn’t belt out Broadway show tunes
    in the shower
    using our best Ethel Merman voice?

    Just me?

    Okay then,
    never mind.

    • says

      See? Now that never would have occurred to me–and I love it!

      Can we just call that my first poem–and credit you as editor? Or official line-breaker? Or something?

  5. says

    Hi, it’s me, the one everyone seems to ignore.
    Rhyming and poetry are not the same thing.
    Some can’t dance and some can’t sing.
    That just happens to rhyme.
    Rhythm is yet another.
    You can’t tell someone not to write,
    that wouldn’t be right. Hearts write.
    Please tell some people not to sing.
    Just like poetry writers or speakers-
    they think they’re great.
    Some of the best pieces ever written,have neither rhythm,rhyme, poem or fame.
    Some of the best singers, sit at home and no one will ever hear them.
    The shower- their biggest fan.

    • says

      I’m getting that rhyming and poetry aren’t the same thing. Poetry just seems to be so many things–it’s hard to wrap my brain around all of them.

      And, no, I will not stop singing in the shower–much to the dismay of those who live with me.

  6. says

    Nancy, here’s where I think you hit the heart of the matter, “Yet I believe there is value in offering piano lessons to anyone who wants them.”
    I feel the same way about art as you do about poetry. When I look at Jodi Lenz’s work, her ‘quick studies’ for instance, I swallow and think, “HOW does she do that??” I could never paint like that.
    But in my old age I’m thinking I might welcome and invitation to try one of these days….
    I have every confidence God will drop in some words and phrases that only Nancy could say.
    I know it.

    • says

      Jody–Don’t even get me started on art! True story–I once had a panic attack in an art studio.

      And I think my fear of art is similar to my fear of poetry–it’s the subjectivity of it all and not knowing how people with art brains and poetry brains create the stuff they do.

      Words and phrases only Nancy would say? Have mercy!


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