Where Does Poetry Come From? III

Perhaps the richest source of poetry can be found in the language of children.

When my daughter was four years old, she experienced an airplane as big on the inside and little on the outside — which, incidentally, serves as a description of a lyric poem as well. She also says Ouch is me when she has a minor injury, signifying perhaps how pain (or joy) can become our whole being. Similarly my eight year old son talked about riding a sound to school, capturing in this phrase the experience of the hum and roar of taking the bus through the morning traffic, the noise and excitement of the other children on the bus, the anticipation of the day’s challenges. He synaesthetically folded all these experiences into one phrase.

As poets, we should strive for this total immersion in the moment; it is in the present acceptance of the given that poetry exists, even when we are writing about the past.

I’m short.
You’re fat.
We’re proud of that.

Little deer lost his ear
so he went to bed
and lost his head
and couldn’t find it in the morning.

Anneliese Becker, age 8

My children often make up little songs they sing to themselves. My daughter invented one about our home that begins We live in a stone called River Own. Forgive me for sounding like a doting father bragging about the ordinary achievements of his only daughter, but I think the line is brilliant. Notice how every word in the line does a great deal of work: the active verb, the interior rhyme and assonance, the variation of the iambic rhythm with the anapestic phrase in a stone, how the strongest stresses are in the last five syllables, making the line rise in emphasis. And notice the primal significance of the mixed metaphor:

We live
Own (Home)    Stone

The line circumscribes a relationship between significant experiences, but like all brilliant metaphors the flow of ideas is illogical, or should we say pre-logical, capturing the experience without the obligation to be consistent and orderly. The associations are musical and intuitive because naming the world is an act of magic, not of logic. Each child has to create the world anew, just as Adam did. And just as poets must.


Filed under: Michael Simms, Poetics, Prose

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Michael Simms is the founder of Autumn House Press and its editor-in-chief from 1998-2016. Currently he is the editor of Vox Populi, an online magazine of poetry, politics and nature. His most recent collections of poems are American Ash and Nightjar, both published by Ragged Sky Press. He lives in Pittsburgh. Find more at: www.michaelsimms.info