How to Write a Poem (with recording)

 

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.

 

* * *

“How to Write a Poem,” is included in Indra’s Net: An International Anthology of Poetry in Aid of The Book Bus, and has appeared on the blog as well.

All profits from this anthology published by Bennison Books will go to The Book Bus, a charity which aims to improve child literacy rates in Africa, Asia and South America by providing children with books and the inspiration to read them.

Available at Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)

36 thoughts on “How to Write a Poem (with recording)

  1. Wonderful! “Turn around, not right” leaped out at me. Also: “grill vegetables, eat, laugh, wash dishes, talk, bathe, kiss loved ones, sleep, dream, wake. Do it all again.” Enjoyed the subtlety, too, of the background sounds.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a wonderful little collection of books on cursing in a number of the world’s languages. English, however, being such a promiscuous language, has borrowed heavily from most of them and has untold riches there.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a poem by an actual poet–the real thing. You could put Okaji in a zoo with a little sign saying, Poet. This is a man living life as a poet in the same way that a lemur, say, lives life as a lemur. There’s another moral here: careful, there’s a poet in the room–Okaji. Everything is fair game for him to make poetry of.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So much to love here. Again and again in this poem, Master Okaji turns a conventional phrase to some delightful, surprising new use, and this alchemy, of course, is what great poets do generally–they redeliver the world to us by helping us to see it again, which makes this a perfect celebration of National Poetry Month. (There is, I suppose, no month that is not poetry month in the life of Sensei Okaji.) The poem is so quotable that I’ll be doing that again and again. I dearly love his throwing in Pound’s “make it new” between dismembering things and fearing no bridges (two ways, lol, to make it new). Lots of great advice here, too. One needs to gather courtesies, for example, for the reason Eliot gave: “These fragments I have shored against my ruin.” This is one of those magnificent poems that I shall remember (and use) at odd moments–when the moon is pulling at my personal tides, for example. And yes, I remember (and it kills me to do this) the freckles on my first love’s breast, and this is just one way in which this poem breaks my heart over and over again as I read it. It’s freaking exquisite. In Japanese, the sound tsuki means both moon and thrust, as in the thrusting of the blade of an assassin.

    https://bobshepherdonline.wordpress.com/2019/03/17/tsuki-shinobi-moon/

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, there is so much to love in this poem. Immediately the first line made me laugh – “learn to curse in three languages”; so much said/implied with that line. “Read bones, read leaves, read the dust on shelves and commit to memory a thousand discarded lines.” Any writer can relate to that! “Turn around instead of right.” “Murder your darlings and don’t get caught.” This was another line that made me laugh out loud; a line to imply so much more than the actual words on the page 🙂 “Know nothing, but know it well.” Thank you for a poem that is tongue in cheek but has deep meaning, too. Robert speaks to the reality of the roadblocks facing a poet but I felt he also gives hope with this poem. It was entertaining, memorable, and put a smile on my face 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Robert,
    I am in love with this poem. It is truth rolling with a playful puppy.
    These are my favorite 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
    to tug your personal tides. When driving, sing with the radio.

    Liked by 2 people

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