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How To: Be Poetic

By Jennie LaFortune

poetry is...

If February is for lovers, then April is for poets.  A host of activities, websites, and even hashtags exist and sprout up in April to encourage people to embrace poetry.

I realize not many people claim to be poets, or even like poetry, but let’s just take a moment and remember what the one and only Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) said in Dead Poet’s Society.

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. So medicine, law, business, engineering… these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love… these are what we stay alive for.” 

If that’s not convincing or doesn’t give you a kick in your poetry pants, I don’t know what will.  I think most of us interact with language in poetic ways for more than we realize. Quotations, lyrics, famous movie lines, and scripture all have elements of powerful words and detailed imagery to unearth emotion and knowledge.

James Fenton, a poet and literary critic said, “the writing of a poem is like a child throwing stones into a mine shaft. You compose first, then you listen for the reverberation.”

I feel the same is true (if not more so) in reading or listening to poetry.  Isn’t there a poem or phrase that you don’t quite understand, or at least didn’t at first, but the words went through you like cold water anyway?  Reverberation.

Some of the most beautiful words and phrases are in our own scriptures. Words that house layers of meaning and emotion that we have heard since we were small, or that reverberated through us later in life.  Here are a few exercises and ideas to play with language while deepening our understanding.

1-Call and Answer
Pick a verse or two of scripture that speaks to you or that you are studying.  Write it down. After reading the verse a few times in your own handwriting, write an answer, response, or reaction to verse (either between the lines, or next to the verse).  Play with your words, cross out the little words, and allow your own thoughts to form by dialoging with the chosen verse.  Do not be critical.  A greater realization for the layers in the scriptures, as well as a deeper personal connection can come from a slower pace of reading, and actual personal writing along side, or answering the call of the scriptures.

…”a small voice, it did pierce

small wells full- holding light

them that did hear to the center,…

golden centers felt with peace

yea, it did pierce them the the

and gasps of breath release

very soul, and did cause their hearts

in awe of budding fires 

to burn.” (3 Nephi 11:3)

2-Verbs and Imagery
Again, pick a verse of scripture. Maybe this time, one that is poetry to you. Make a list of all the verbs and or stunning words. Using the verbs, write your own stanza of poetry.  The verbs will help jump start thoughts and ideas, while incorporating general themes and layers present in the verse you chose.

“The earth rolls upon her wings,                   verbs: rolls, giveth, give, roll
and the sun giveth his light by day,              other words: wings, sun, moon, light, stars, glory
and the moon giveth her light by
night, and the starts also give their                           Light gives grace
light, as they roll upon their wings                            While the Son rolls in His glory
in their glory, in the midst of                                        To fly on wings of giving
the power of God.” (D&C 88:40)                                  Moons shine on in darkness, always giving

Incorporating poetry into our personal or family scripture study that just may deepen or allow us to see the power of the word in new and dare I even say more poetic ways.

About Jennie LaFortune

(Prose Board) is from Salt Lake. Figuring life out one book, beach, road trip, museum, and front porch conversation at a time. Perpetually on the search for the best dark chocolate, finest pen, and greenest field. When she's not teaching high school, she loves to spend time with friends and family, the shore of any ocean, holding her friends' babies, or taking long neighborhood walks.

3 thoughts on “How To: Be Poetic”

  1. Thank you, Jennie! After having finally admitted out loud that I'm a writer, I'm testing the waters to see if I might be a poet, too. (At least, my thoughts come out in poetic form sometimes.) You've validated that, and given me some great ideas for exploring my more poetic layer. Bring on April! Oh, and one of my most favorite poetic scripture lines is "with healing in His wings…"

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