Poetry and Inspiration_The Poet in the Cafe

Inspiration: The Poet in the Cafe

Guest Blogger Lifestyle inspiration, poetry

Today’s guest blog is by an accomplished poet and dear friend, Iris Lee. Iris artfully describes how she became a poet and how she finds the structure and regulation of poetry liberating. She talks about a source of her inspiration and shares with us one of her favorite poems from her collection.

I began seriously writing poetry around twenty years ago for the big bucks (kidding!). Actually it was a bad time in my life – deaths, breakups – and I was becoming tired of ranting to friends and weeping in my pillow. I found that journaling was just another opportunity to let my feelings run amok, but that by applying the discipline of poetry writing to my thoughts and feelings I could enter a “safe zone” where paradoxically I could begin to turn emotion into image.

After a time it became apparent that I needed serious help if were to continue to write poetry that was more than a way to vent. I’d been told that I had “latent talent” but I needed to harness that talent to craft in order to create anything worthwhile. I was fortunate to be steered to classes with a teacher who became my mentor, a tough guy who did not suffer fools gladly. Long dead now, Bill Packard still perches on my shoulder as I write, growling, “No Latinate words!” and “No abstractions!”.

Form is a friend to poets. Think about a child throwing a tantrum. Hold that child tightly. She can’t escape but she is safe and can then allow her frontal cortex to overcome the amygdala’s emotional overload. That’s somewhat like the strictures of poetic form. Even free verse has requirements like syntax, rhythm, and image. Trust me: the more a poem seems to have been written with ease and speed, the more time and effort has been taken. There is that extremely rare poem which does “write itself” but you can’t ever count on that. As a wise person (my daughter) once said to me, write for yourself and worry about readers later. This would be the revision process, when you take your precious words and torture them into obedience by compression, alliteration – the whole bag of poetry tricks.

The other great gift of studying poetry writing is poetry reading. Let no one tell you that a writer should steer clear of reading others’ works. Reading, analyzing, enjoying, and yes, even sometimes copying, a great poet is essential to learning one’s craft.  And the secret is that the more you read poetry, the more you “get it” and enjoy it. And grow as a poet.

Case in point: This morning I was sitting in my favorite patisserie reading “Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, ” a collection of essays by the poet Jane Hirshfield. In one, she reprints a poem by the Polish poet Zbiniew Herbert titled “I Would Like to Describe.” The penultimate stanza:

“We fall asleep
with one hand under our head
and with the other in a mound of planets”

I was blown away. Emily Dickinson is often quoted as saying, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” I always thought that was so much Old New England hype. Until today. When I read those lines by Herbert, I was awed and inspired; people and lattes vanished momentarily. Reality and fancy caught and presented to us in three startling, compact lines.

Such is the nature of inspiration that after the spell began to wear off, I was impelled to begin a poem of my own. Since it’s in its infancy, I will not share it here. But, in the interests of good faith, I will share a short poem of mine which appears in my poetry collection. “Urban Bird Life”:


Raingreen scent. I want to roll
like a pup until I’m soaked.
Until I turn raingreen. And shiver.
The rain’s over, been over
for some hours. The park’s become
a sunstruck raingreen
spot. Where god it sparkles.

Iris Lee is a poet and editor who runs a writing workshop for theater professionals at The Actors Fund in New York City. Her book of poetry, Urban Bird Life, published by New York Quarterly Books, is available through Amazon. Her work has also appeared in print and online in venues including Haibun Today, OccuPoetry, and Passages.


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Comments 29

  1. Oh, do I ever love this! The Hirshfield stanza exploded my head, but no more than your, Iris. How lovely!
    Form is the friend of novelists as well, although often they fight it in the beginning. But when you understand what it does, what it really does–gives structure onto which your wondrous words can drape across and weave around.
    “The park’s become
    a sunstruck raingreen
    AH!!!!!! Thank you!

    1. Like you Sabrina Quairoli, understanding poetry did not come easily to me. I now understand it when the words create a vision, as this one does and you so aptly put it into words.

  2. First, I find it incredible that you took poetry to the next level in your life. This is such a wonderful example of someone following a passion and then forcing themselves to be better. I hope that I can find that type of discipline in my craft. Second, thank you for sharing that bit of a poem. Honestly, I rarely read poetry so that was a treat.

    1. Welcome to our blog Renee Groskreutz. Thank you for your comment. We too are pleased our guest post was about poetry. I think it was a treat dfor many of our readers.

  3. I loved this. Such a treat to get inside the head of a wonderful poet and see what inspires them. Cadman Plaza Park at 8am brought to mind another wonderful poet, a favourite of mine, Les Murray. I will definitely have to get Urban Bird Life.

    1. Thank you so much Tamuria for relating to this piece and the poetry. I think you will love the poems in Urban Bird Life and I will be sure that Iris gets your compliment.

  4. This was a wonderful look inside the heart of a poet! As someone who writes song lyrics, I see that as somewhat of a pop poem form. I loved the three line poem from Herbert. In so few words, so much is said. It is lovely to hear how Iris took her ranting and journaling, and transformed it into poetic form. Very inspiring to know that when we have a passion for something and a willingness to explore it fully, we can add a new richness to our life. Thanks for sharing your poem with us all as well. Lovely!

  5. What a beautiful post. Thank you, Iris Lee, and thank you Roslyn, for presenting it. Lovely to enter into the world of poetry, which is not my habitual hangout. I feel the passion and the excitement through this wonderful description!

    1. Relating to poetry, like art and music is very personal Kristen Wilson, and one is either attracted to it or not. And there are many different forms of poetry. It can take time and interest to really get it.

  6. Rosilyn,

    I loved this post and yes I remeber poetry and wrote some myself, but these is remarkable and thanks for sharing yourfriends work. Appreciate the guest post.


  7. As a student I was always pretty much confused and overwhelmed by poetry. As I’ve matured and moved more from my head to my heart I find myself drawn to poetry more and more. Thanks for this lovely reminder. I especially like this:
    “We fall asleep
    with one hand under our head
    and with the other in a mound of planets”


  8. “Write for yourself and worry about readers later” is priceless advice. I feel, when I write, that it’s for the self within me that’s tied to my readers–for that energy that fuels not only my creativity, but the creativity of the trees and the stars. The energy of the universe.

    I absolutely loved this post! And I’d never heard of Latinate words before, so this was educational! Great poem as well.

  9. I’m going to have to bookmark this post for reading again, Roslyn. My Mom writes poetry too along with her artworks and I’ve suddenly seen a different angle to her work. Thank you Iris for making it possible. <3

    1. What an extra gift to know that you, Vatsala Shukla can now appreciate something additional in your mother’s poetry. Lovely idea for her to include a poem with her paintings. Sounds like a great blog waiting to be written.

  10. I’ve always been somewhat poetry-phobic. With age has come new appreciation. Somehow there is a better grasp of its flow, beauty, and quiet revelations. Thank you for continuing to open my eyes to the process.

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