Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Lineup - Poems on Crime

In eighth grade literature class I had to write a poem once a week. I kind of hated it. I can still recall the frustration of having this deep emotion I wanted to convey, yet being totally unable to transfer it to paper. And I still remember lines from some of the awful poems. One had the saccharine title of Love Be In Clover. This was during the Vietnam War, which easily explains the first two lines:

So you’re gonna go and fight,
You do what you think is right.

This very well could have been my first piece of writing. It was pretentious, phony, awful, and I knew it.

When Gerald So asked me to submit a poem to be considered for The Lineup 3, poems on crime, my first reaction was to tell him no thanks. I don’t write poetry. I don’t know anything about poetry. And the lines of the above poem kept circling in my head. So you’re gonna go and fight….

But I can’t resist a challenge, so I decided to give it a try. I spent several hours working on a poem. Here’s what I came up with:


He holds me
And whispers, “I adore.”
A kiss

He pushes and whispers, “My darling.”

A rush of air, a splash
I descend through water, past broken moonlight
Past slumbering fish

Toes and fingers rake the river bottom
Stirring up sediment
Slow motion

The current coaxes
Water moves across skin
Hair sweeps my eyes
In death, I swim.

It was okay, but certainly nothing special. Like my eighth grade poem, it felt forced and kind of phony, written from the outside instead of the inside.

But it was done and that was that. I would proof it one more time before emailing it to Gerald in the morning. But then an odd thing happened. That evening another poem popped into my head almost fully formed. I wrote it in about five minutes, wondering where in the hell it had come from, because I’d had no plans to write more than one poem. Not even on my agenda. With that piece, I managed to capture 90% of what I wanted to convey. It was also very different from what I would have consciously tried to write. The second one came from me, and it felt authentic. That second poem ended up being chosen for next year’s poetry chapbook.


  1. I love it when that happens. Congrats!

  2. Thanks!! I'm now finding the idea of poetry very intriguing. I think maybe it taps into another part of the brain -- always a good thing.

  3. Cool. Someone asked me to be submit to a flash fiction contest and I agreed and I can't thinking of how I could generate something which would meet the rules of that contest and freaking out. But now I've flipped: what do i really want to write about? Can this assignment give me a chance to do that? It seems to have helped.

  4. I love poetry. Been writing it since I was four. Lost most of my work in a house fire.


    My favorite ones were always surprise, rushed gifts. Couldn't write them down fast enough. (I wish writing a book worked that way, but sadly... lol.)

    Can't wait to read your poem!

  5. P.S.

    Forgot to mention that I like the one you posted! :-)

    Reminds me of the movie What Lies Beneath. (I loved the film, even though it got poor reviews.)

  6. Kevin, I think flash fiction is so much fun. I just finished a new piece today. Good luck with yours!

    Heather, that's awful about the fire. :( But I can really see where those years of poetry helped shape your writing. What Lies Beneath. I'm thinking that's the movie with all of the bodies anchored underwater, almost like a garden? That was very cool.

  7. Nope. The movie with Michelle P. & Harrison Ford. Don't know what movie you described, but it sounds like one I would want to see.

  8. heather, oh yes! I liked that movie too! i think i might be thinking of the lake. i'm a sucker for bad tv movies.


  9. Well, that's it.

    You're a poet.

    You can't deny it any longer.