Dear Brilliant Girl and How I Found Her

I received some wonderful cards for my thirtieth birthday, not to mention many more messages by text. I decided that as a way of saying thank you, I would make a found poem out of them.  The official definition of found poetry is "a type of poetry created by taking words, phrases, and sometimes whole passages from other sources and reframing them as poetry".  

An argument could be made that it's a way of cheating, because you're re-using something that already exists.  But by placing conditions on what you write and how you write it, it catches the essence of what the process of creating a poem is about.  More traditionally, these rules usually manifests themselves as a particular rhythm, metre or rhyming scheme according to either a poem's established rules - be it a sonnet, a sestina, a haiku etc - or a poet's own particular set of rules that he or she decides to place upon it.  

Contemporary poetry is often criticised for an overabundance of free verse - that is, verse that is free from rhyme and metre.  Lines are of a seemingly arbitrary length, while quite often the only consideration made when it comes to line breaks is how the poem looks physically.  I don't have much of a problem with this; sometimes a poem's contents can be enough to make it great, and as long as the poem scans well from one line to the next without anything looking forced or out of place, then I'm happy.  

What I would say, though, in defence of poems that have a clearly-defined, or even a less easily-defined set of rules, is that they are much more fun to write.  If you write a sonnet for example, you have the history of the sonnet behind you, and the romance of an eight hundred-year tradition that comes with it, and you have its structure to work to.  If I think about it more deeply, I like to imagine the context in which people in the past have been compelled to write poetry, specifically formal poetry: the historical and social context as well as their own personal circumstances.  

All considerations aside, it doesn't really matter whether it's a formal poem or not - there are lots of great formal and informal poems -  but a formal poem can be much more fun to write.  The process can be much more rewarding and it can push the poet in the sort of new and interesting direction that a poem with no restrictions can only dream of.  To draw some sort of an analogy, the process of penning a poem with no rules or restrictions is like the poet muttering to himself, but a poem with rules is like writing with Freud in the room.  It can draw stuff out of you that you didn't even knew existed.  And not just stuff about your mother.  

It's easy to get bogged down with the formal vs. informal debate.  It's usually the poetic pedants who get their knickers in their twist over things like this and I don't have much time for it.  There is a lot of good poetry out there and a lot of bad poetry, too.  My job is to distinguish between the two.bbI've written plenty of informal poems and readers have responded well to them.  But for me, the process of writing a poem is most important to me.  If the poet has fun writing a poem, whatever type of poem that is, then that will shine through.  And it has to be fun, otherwise what's the point?  I cannot speak for poetry editors, but what I've found is that rules lead to fun within these rules, and fun leads to ingenuity, and it's this ingenuity that editors are looking for.   

In this case, I decided that I wanted to form a poem from words that appeared on the outside and inside of the cards I received.  So I typed up all the messages, printed them and with a pair of scissors, set myself to work.  I had a wonderful time arranging it and I can quite happily say it's the most fun I've ever had writing a poem, though this one is not without its cliches.  

Finally, I'd like to say that I respond most intuitively to sound and colour so reading poetry hasn't come easily to me.  It's something I've had to work on and cultivate over the eight years or so that I've been reading poetry, but I'm enjoying the journey.    

I've dedicated this poem to all the women who have wished me a happy birthday in the cards I've received.  I must thank the men who also wished me happy birthday, but the beauty of found poetry is that it pushes you in directions you'd least expect.

Dear Brilliant Girl 

to Cathy, Eileen, Georgina, Indie, Jess, Sally, Sarah, Sarajane, Sophie, Tara, Terri, Nan and Mum

It doesn't matter if the glass 
is half-full or half-empty
you've got a lot of glasses. 
Celebrate your gifts. 
Love of all things
leads to new life, 
the start of new beginnings. 
Be your dearest dreams,
Celebrate the meaning of contentment
through love and hope
and love and hope.
You - a brilliant, outstanding force - 
deserve it.  

Pour out optimism.
Go well.  
Drink up now.    


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