Poetry Writing

Olivia Rodrigo in an article by Ben Henry, BuzzFeed News.

I read this quote from Rodrigo defending her use of describing a “blonde girl” (when really, the girl in question, was a brunette) in her song, and immediately, her words resonated with me.

As a poet, I tend to get specific. I say an ex-lover’s eyes sparkled like jade with the rings of Saturn orbiting her pupil. I describe the way he smelled like piney marijuana and patchouli when he danced with me. I might say another’s name tasted like taking a bite of a red apple in autumn but later, all I could taste was the scorch of burnt ash.

So I understand the need to get descriptive, but as a fiction author, I also know it is frowned on to give a laundry list of description: “He was 5’7″ with a close-cropped beard and eyes that glimmered like blue topaz whenever he saw her. He had a freckle underneath his eye that lined up with a freckle she had underneath her eye, so when they kissed, their freckles exchanged intimate greetings as well. He wore oversized dress shirts with the cuffs hanging over his small hands. His hands were stained with tobacco and always moving with a nervous, frenetic energy. When he smiled, she could see his imperfect teeth, but it was a genuine smile. He weighed around one-hundred-and-sixty pounds and was self-conscious of the hair on his stomach.”

…did you enjoy reading all of that?

I tried my best to make it interesting, but let’s be honest – that’s a lot of detail.

So, an author might pick and choose so her audience doesn’t feel alienated from her. While a fiction author has the luxury of using more words, it doesn’t mean a pile-up of details forced down her readers’ throats.

That being said, a poet wants to create a specific person but still leave the details a bit hazy, so when you’ve finished reading, you can tell yourself that the poem was about you or your ex-girlfriend or your fiancé or your next door neighbor or your grandpa who died eleven-and-a-half years ago.

Also, like Rodrigo touched on, the drama can take away the song or poem’s impact because everyone is analyzing it, waiting for reactions, and caught up in the scandal. I prefer amalgamations of people or details that aren’t really details like some of what I’ve written above.

Just my thoughts.

Killing your Darlings

In the world of writing, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch advised students to “murder their darlings” in a lecture, and as I revise, I find I am reluctant to murder my darlings, but I’m doing my best to be brutal.

Some lines, no matter how beautifully they’re phrased, must simply be abandoned.

I keep a small notebook with phrases I adore from my murdering stage of my writing. I call it my Homeless File. It’s where lines that are homeless lay their heads to rest, a small trashcan fire burning to keep them warm.

Today, as I revised my novel, I came across one:

Ghosts of an unremarkable past haunted her.

Those words are beautiful to me and conjure up images of a mundane life now gone, but alas, the sentence was unnecessary, so it goes into the Homeless File.

The beauty of the Homeless File is that I can discover other beautiful fragmentary thoughts that add to my appreciation of language and maybe some day, can incorporate into a story or poem.

Ribbon my soul/and graft/the missing pieces onto your heart.

These words, alone, might not sound like much, but they all hold a place in my heart because though I might have given up their ghosts in their earlier works, this does not mean they will not find a home elsewhere.

I have lived so many lives/you might as well call me/a matryoshka doll/(Stacked inside of each other/to keep warm & cozy/we can be our own best friends./Whoever needed anybody else?)

I feel every author should have a Homeless File.

What do you think? Do any of my fellow authors keep the darlings that they kill?

I’m starting to wonder if it’s more of a morgue than a Homeless File.