Writing Poetry for Personal Discovery (Including 6 Guiding Principles)

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

Friday was my last day at work for at least a month. After biking home, I didn’t feel the sense of relief I usually feel after finishing with a group and having a weekend free of correction work. I actually felt a slight panic, even dread. I heard myself thinking: What do I do now? What’s going to happen now that I’m making room for all the stuff that wants to come up? How am I going to approach this time?

I’m still unsure about how exactly the weeks will unfold, whether I’ll opt for a strict schedule of healing habits (exercise, meditation, walks in nature, etc) or whether I’ll try to just tune in to my body and soul to see what they need on a daily basis. One thing I have decided on already, however, is that I’ll be writing at least one poem every single day as a way to get to what’s going on inside. I’ve found poetry to be incredibly helpful in that respect, and here’s why:

I love writing, words, sentences, sounds. Words are my go-to way of expressing myself, but they are also the tool by which I can very aptly delude others and myself. We use our language to present a version of ourselves to the world. We use words to lie, to cover up, to manipulate, to elaborate, to brag, to enhance; whether consciously or unconsciously.

When I write prose, be it fiction or non-fiction, I am still strongly focussed on how the reader will receive the text. Are my sentences varied and interesting? Are my ideas clearly explained? What questions and comments can I anticipate and already answer? There’s a certain amount of form I respect to help guide you through. I try to look after my readers.

And then there’s poetry. When I write a poem, I usually have no intention of sharing it. I don’t care about how legible the lines are. It doesn’t matter if I use the same word twice, or if my grammar, spelling and punctuation are off. The only thing that matters, is that I try to capture my thoughts, my feelings, the inexpressible fluctuations of my soul, in a combination of words and the space between those words.

What ends up on the paper is far less important than what happens in the process. While I’m writing, it feels like I’m opening up the gates that guard my chest, and just let the stuff that’s been hidden in there spill onto the page. It can be raw and painful, or beautiful and ecstatic, or dark and scary. It can be all those things in a matter of moments, even at once. Sometimes, the poems that come out, the phrases that are formed are little gems. Often, I reread the poem later and don’t see any lasting value in it. But since that’s not really the poing to begin with, I don’t care.

From a psychological point of view, writing a poem is a way for me to fully explore how I feel beyond the scope of logical language. To really dive into myself and see what’s lurking underneath the surface of the seemingly still water. The process gets intense. I have to be alone, in silence. It’s perhaps even more ‘meditative’ to me than meditation (in which I have the tendency to go into a trance).

For those of you who want to try it… these 6 guiding principles have been important for me during the process:

  1. No editing until you’re done with the initial writing process. Editing brings you to your head and turns off that powerful flow of emotions
  2. Keep lines short, in order to keep yourself from running into a prose text.
  3. No explaining anything. Some things are just beyond explanation, and there’s no one to explain yourself to anyways
  4. No intention of sharing. You can always share previous poems, but if you start writing with the idea you might share, it’s hard not to self-censor.
  5. No attention to style. I usually like using rhyme, alliteration, word-play, interesting line breaks, when I write a poem with the intention of sharing it (this is a poem I shared on this blog before.)
  6. No overthinking. For me, I have to write these poems pretty quickly. I don’t think they usually take more than 5-15 minutes to write (not including the editing I might do later if I think there’s anything worth editing).

I know poetry takes up a niche space in our current society. I don’t know many people who read it on a regular basis, let alone write poems. It has the reputation of being difficult, and trivial, and (sometimes) elitist. The thing is, poetry is a very flexible art-form. It can be difficult, yes, but also really fun and easy-breezy. And it can be trivial to some, and the essence of life to others. You are free to make up your own mind about it and see what (if anything) it can mean for you.

Secretly, I hope you’ll let it surprise you, too.

3 thoughts on “Writing Poetry for Personal Discovery (Including 6 Guiding Principles)

    1. Good question. I find myself usually writing in English, but I deliberately use my mother tongue from time to time as well, since I sense there’s perhaps more therapeutic effect when I write in Dutch.

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