Paper flowers (or, how I write a poem)

@singleonion: @shannoetry wins the Halation twitter poetry contest. Look for the winning poem on next event’s poster. Excellent work!

A few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to win the Single Onion Halation Twitter Poetry contest. Surprised because I don’t win things often – not scratch tickets, no free coffee during roll up the rim – and pleased because, well, I’d won a poetry contest! My prize was to have my poem printed on the poster of an upcoming Single Onion poetry reading event (and now I’d like to see if I can get my hands on one of ‘em). I continue to be a little surprised and very flattered.

I read the winning tweet while I was at the office. More than a bit surprised, I blurted “I just won a poetry contest”. My team lead – a PhD, writer, former university professor, foreign film aficionado and all-round interesting individual – asked me to forward her my winning poem. So I did:

Paper flowers

I decorate my life with
paper flowers
pinned to corkboard.
A sculpted garden
reeking of insincerity

After reading Paper flowers, she asked me two things – did I compose this at work? and why ‘reeking of insincerity’? I admitted that I drew my inspiration from work – my cubicle is actually decorated with fake flowers (yes, the above is a grainy cell phone photo of silk flowers pinned to my cube wall) – and that I chose ‘reeking of insincerity’ because they’re fake flowers (insincere) and because flowers smell (read: reek). Simple really. But her questions got me thinking about why I write what I write; the little decisions I make, sometimes without even realizing I’ve made them, that drive a piece in a certain direction.

When I looked back at my notebook page a few days later, I was amused at the chicken scratches and on-the-spot edits I’d made to ultimately reach what I felt were the right words. I know we all do this – write, edit, and edit again. Sometimes I feel that a poem can never be truly complete because I could always go back and make some tiny revision. Lately I’ve been of the opinion that this unfinished quality is what makes the poem a poem, unique in its apparent completeness but never final.

And so the real reason for this post is to do something I’ve never done before – share my process. Once upon a time I was an English Literature major. As a result, I have a certain fondness for disecting the written word – breaking the pieces apart and theorizing about the contet. Sometimes. Most times I simply enjoy the beauty of a poem; the overt message, the subtext, the meaning it has for me personally. But the questions my team lead posed sparked a curiosity in me about my own work, and something I thought I would share.

I submitted three poems for consideration, each the length of one tweet. In the process of doing so, I came up with all sorts of lines – some that made it into these three, and some that will be tucked away for later use. This isn’t my usual process of refining a piece. Recently, I’ve been evolving how I write, looking for the path that leads me where I’m trying to go. Phrases pop into my head at any time of day or night, and I write them down haphazardly in my notebook. There’s always chaos when I have to pull them all together – like doing a puzzle without the picture on the box and with all the corner pieces missing.

I’ve posted my original scribbling, including all of my extraneous words as I searched for the right one. Below that, you’ll find the ‘final’ drafts of the other two pieces I submitted. (Note: if you click on the image, it should become big enough to read)

As promised, the two other entries:
When drops of sunlight
sift through
low-hanging leaves,
felicity seems
within reach.

All that glitters

Warmed by the
distant sparkle of
The High Life
my painted nails
the color of blue-green algae
just don’t jibe


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