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On Writing Poetry

by Jim Slaughter

I agree with Ernest Hemingway who said, "The first draft of anything is shit." If, as they say, acting is reacting, then writing is rewriting, and then rewriting the rewrite, and being stumped along the way is part of the process.

I know I have imagination, but I'm not a profound thinker. I suspect the reason I enjoy writing poems is because they're short, or short-ish. At least I think they should be. I can say what I want to say in a few lines and then stop, hang up the phone, leave the room, exit the building, and get the hell outta Dodge. Aha! You say. Ay, there's the rub. And that, of course, is the other trick, isn't it? Having something to say and saying it in such a way that someone else will, hopefully, want to read it.

When someone does visit my poems, everything he or she reads is filtered through my point of view: attitude, personal vision, interpretations of things, and forces that control my life and destiny. And, although I am by no means a moralist, I do have moral values, and some of my points of view might also be called, if one is generous, examples or allegories. I don't really care about them being literally or factually true, I just want them to be funny, or thought-provoking, and above all, most of the time to rhyme. You see? I just can't help myself!

Sometimes, when I'm working on a poem, I have to stop and consider the relation between some single word and the overall meaning of the situation and/or action, between a significant part and the significance of the whole piece, especially if I'm working toward a "wind-up" or a "punch line".

Someone, I don't know who, once said, "Poetry is like sex appeal. It's hard to define, but we know it when we see it."

I've heard that inspiration leads to imitation which leads to one's own style. And originality, after all, is merely "judicious" imitation. So I endeavor very sincerely and earnestly to be original when I can, and when I can't, well, I try just as hard to "judiciously" imitate the best. The two biggest challenges that I have so far confronted in my writing journey are 1) trying to hold on to the fast retreating memories of the past, and 2) trying to keep up with the even faster ticking away moments of the immediate present.

My ambition as a writer is to one day stop being a "dilettante" and start being a "true practitioner". I hope that I'll live long enough to realize that transition for myself, but should that not be the case, then I think I have the courage and the strength of character, and of my convictions, to let posterity be the judge.


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