How to Write a Poem

chain saw

How to Write a Poem

Learn to curse in three languages. When midday
yawns stack high and your eyelids flutter, fire up

the chain saw; there’s always something to dismember.
Make it new. Fear no bridges. Accelerate through

curves, and look twice before leaping over fires,
much less into them. Read bones, read leaves, read

the dust on shelves and commit to memory a thousand
discarded lines. Next, torch them. Take more than you

need, buy books, scratch notes in the dirt and watch
them scatter down nameless alleys at the evening’s first

gusts. Gather words and courtesies. Guard them carefully.
Play with others, observe birds, insects and neighbors,

but covet your minutes alone and handle with bare hands
only those snakes you know. Mourn the kindling you create

and toast each new moon as if it might be the last one
to tug your personal tides. When driving, sing with the radio.

Always. Turn around instead of right. Deny ambition.
Remember the freckles on your first love’s left breast.

There are no one-way streets. Appreciate the fragrance
of fresh dog shit while scraping it from the boot’s sole.

Steal, don’t borrow. Murder your darlings and don’t get
caught. Know nothing, but know it well. Speak softly

and thank the grocery store clerk for wishing you
a nice day even if she didn’t mean it. Then mow the grass,

grill vegetables, eat, laugh, wash dishes, talk, bathe,
kiss loved ones, sleep, dream, wake. Do it all again.

 

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167 thoughts on “How to Write a Poem

  1. Simple yet relative. I really loved these lines:

    “but covet your minutes alone and handle with bare hands
    only those snakes you know. Mourn the kindling you create

    and toast each new moon as if it might be the last one.”

    Delightful to read this morning while eating breakfast and drinking coffee.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Pingback: How to Write a Poem, by Robert Okaji | prince nothing

  3. This is a keeper for me, Bob! Meaning I print it out to be read A LOT. I love everything about it – images, how it sounds, clever asides – simply a wonderful poem! Very resonant – is it new?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this. I just finished reading a novel that might’ve been much better if the author had murdered his darlings. Instead, he nurtured them until I was ready to murder them. Would he have been an accessory to my crime?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. This is EXACTLY how to write poems, things that Kenko (Yoshida) himself might have said if he lived in our times!! I am going to recite this one in public at every chance I get. 65 million stars out of 5!!!

    There are three rules for writing brilliant poetry. I don’t know the other two but the first one is ‘be Robert Okaji.’

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I’ve seen stated in haute literary journals’ “mission statements” more often than not that they are *not* interested in poems on the topic of how to write a poem, which I’ve always thought was kind of missing the point, if not downright laughable. This sort of pseudo-intellectualism is a misguided exercise in cutting off noses to spite faces, while claiming it is hip for people to walk around without noses. The notion that anyone falls for this crap is beyond me.

    But I’m preaching to the choir. I know you are well aware of all that is at stake in writing a poem about how to write a poem, which is why I appreciate all the more that you’ve so boldly and unapologetically done so (and mostly without adverbs, to boot!). We are fascinated by recipes for “how to…,” exactly because they validate and afford purpose to our otherwise disconnected (yet universal) human experiences, of which the most coveted is the “secret ingredient,” the thing that pretends so well to be something new under the sun, that we believe it is…

    “Steal, don’t borrow. Murder your darlings and don’t get
    caught.”

    It seems that there’s a windy willow grove in the heart of The Wasteland… Who knew?

    This is a fine piece of pretending!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Woah!!!! 💀 I’m so floored. You rendered me catatonic at “scratch notes in the dirt and watch them scatter down nameless alleys at the evening’s first gusts.” Every word is so perfectly painted. You are a friggin poetic mastermind. Bless you deeply for sharing this. ✨💜💜🌟

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “Learn to curse in three languages. When midday
    yawns stack high and your eyelids flutter, fire up

    the chain saw; there’s always something to dismember.”

    I took a pause and as I hit the third line, I chuckled aloud. That was clever. This entire piece is perfectly crafted! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Beyond excellent, Bob!I’ve tried your method already but I must have done something wrong…I keep getting the State constitution of Texas in Sanscrit.  Perhaps you can tell me what I did wrong?Semi-warmest always,Ronzini — Authorized Zamboni dealer of Australia, Utah, and Arizona

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, I dunno, Mek. Some lines begin as images that I try to describe. Others just pop out. There’s also a sonic element – occasionally a word (not the right one) will sound approximately like what I’m searching for but haven’t yet found, and I’ll insert it into the draft, knowing that it’s going to be changed. And then there are those savory words that just beg to be used (but not too often).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the insight Bob. If I try, for a line like that, I end up with cliches. I find it really hard to get out of a line of thought about seasons, time, death in the ways I have read the described by others. I loe reading poems that challenge the way I look at the world and make me break out of the well trodden lines of though. Sonic element- that is interesting…

        Liked by 1 person

      • If asked, I would advise you to write the cliches, then “dismember” them – remove or change those elements that bolster the cliche. Go wild, be weird! I forgot to mention rhythm, which is part of the sonic element. I read aloud, as I write, and often search for syllables and stresses (by feel, without counting) to make the line sound right. So I’ll occasionally insert words that make absolutely no sense in the context of the poem, but that contain the desired number of syllables or stresses, and will revise later. Goofy, but it works. Well, most of the time.

        Like

  10. Pingback: How to Write a Poem « buildingapoem

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