You Don’t Have to Be A Poet to Write Poetry

This past weekend marked the first of my poetry readings for my latest collection, THE GUILT GENE. This is a collection which I really enjoyed putting together.

It has been said that poets should not give away their secrets because there are people seated on benches waiting to copy and emulate—but as an instructor of writing, it is just a part of what I do. The secret I want to share with you is that you do not have to be a poet to write poetry.

Really. You don’t and I will tell you why.

The first poem I wrote as an adult was about fifteen years ago. The poem, called Park Avenue, was inspired by being watched by a senior citizen sitting on a bench outside my favorite coffee shop. As a woman taught to park in New York, by her car-loving father, I knew that I was a darn good parallel-parker. The gentleman on the bench on Park Avenue insisted on staring at me and his glance aggravated me so much that I decided to write a poem about the experience.

I read the poem at my writer’s meeting that week and received accolades. As a nonfiction writer, I was proud of my work, and realized the importance of words stemming directly from emotion. In addition, there is this certain unexplainable magic that happens when a poem is born. The poet is filled with a sense of joy and fluttering which creeps along the skin. Just try it. Sit for a few moments and think about an emotion or image which has recently grabbed you and write a poem about it.  Examine the details in your every day world; isolate one moment or image and dig deeper into it and you will surprise yourself.

My other secret is that most of my poems are inspired by a recent image or emotion. Below are two poem selections from THE GUILT GENE:

The Library

In the happy moments

of childhood

a public library sits

nestled between a department store

and a post office,

the only place I could find peace

from the yelling and screaming

at home

and the fallout shelters at school.

That little library card

bearing my name beneath

lamination could protect me

more than the words of my father

who would take me onto his lap,

swear to me that everything would be okay.

In the end books would save me.

Knowledge is the only thing

that cannot be stolen away.

California Roll

On route to my favorite coffee shop

in the building beside your place,

my mind meanders toward

the neighboring mountains

where we trekked long ago

and yodeled to the world how we

wanted to be forever arm-in-arm

when all of a sudden

a glance into my rear view mirror

meets the flashing lights of the law

signaling for me to pull aside.

He asks about the stop sign I blew through.

Having a blank moment

I mutter something about being

new to the area

don’t mention that for the past few weeks

friends and family have been

teaching me the lovely local dance

they call the California Roll.

I don’t mention you either.

I just say I’m sorry.

It won’t happen again.

the guilt gene_cover

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1 Response to “You Don’t Have to Be A Poet to Write Poetry”


  1. 1 Haleyknitz November 4, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    The Library poem is one of my favorites from your book. The library is like my home 😀


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"A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror."

~Mary Gordon

About Me


I am a memoirist, essayist, poet and teacher whose passion is keeping a notebook. My notebook is my muse and my alter ego. It contains personal snippets of my life and observations from the world around me. Diarist Anaïs Nin has been a great source of inspiration for me. My hobbies include writing, writing and more writing, but when I have extra time, I enjoy reading, walking, hiking, yoga, working out, cooking and hanging out with my family and Maltese Poodle, Spunky. In order not to become ensconced by the glare of my computer screen, I also teach in the UCLA Extension Writers' Program and in various conferences and festivals around the country. My pleasure comes from sharing my joy of journaling with professional writers and anyone interested in writing.

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