Some of the best poems come from places where we feel things deeply and know well. Often that is a relationship with a member of our family. The feelings might be good or bad but they are almost always there, holding nuggets to make a poem. I ask my students to write a poem about someone in their family but to not tell me how they are related until the very last line. Let me get to know the person through their poem.
Now sometimes it’s hard to get there right away so you know what I’m going to tell you to do right? Yep. Make a list. And if it’s easiest to make the list starting out with the relationship and their name, fine. Do that in your listmaking/brainstorming stage. Then go back and reword it in your revision. By that I mean, brainstorm like this:
My sister Susan wears . . .
My sister Susan keeps . . .
My sister Susan hates . . .
My sister Susan likes . . .
But change it up when you work up your revised poem.
Here’s my first draft of such a poem.
He loved to hunt, that big tall man,
so tall that if I sat on his shoulders, I could touch the ceiling.
He loved to hunt those ducks and pheasant and quail
to keep us fed in the winter months
and when he brought home the ducks
we’d gather in the basement to pluck the feathers,
feathers we’d save to make into pillows later.
Later after the ducks were clean and singed
and the smell of burned flesh branded in my brain
we’d race back up the steep stairs from the basement
pack those ducks in milk cartons filled with water and
tuck them in the freezer for the lean days.
He loved to fish, that man who kept a toothpick wedged between his lips,
hooking the big blue and white boat
behind his ancient green station wagon and heading out to the sloughs
on a summer Saturday, stopping to rake some clams for bait
before heading off to Colusa with his best girl
hoping to snag a sturgeon before they had to come back home.
He loved to sit in that nubby red chair,
reading the paper and watching Red Skelton,
sucking on a peppermint lifesaver
while Red made him laugh a deep true belly laugh
that always felt like a hug
He loved his meat and potatoes for dinner
spam sandwiches for lunch
dessert and coffee with every meal.
He loved being outdoors
working in his garage
puttering in the yard
not being caged in the house
or a church
or a hospital bed
He loved me too,
that grandfather of mine,
even though I don’t remember
him ever saying the words out loud.
–Susan Taylor Brown, all rights reserved