Turning life’s prose into verse

Stroll with Nicole

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Nicole Law finds a poetry competition is a powerful therapy.

April is Poetry Writing Month in Singapore and that celebration reminds me each year how I have always envied those who are able to write poetry with both mastery and finesse. 

For a few years now, I have browsed the poetry selection in the month of April but never dared to submit a single poem. Poetry Month operates from a  public Facebook page and invites anyone and everyone to comment on submitted poems, and I wasn’t exactly ready for that! 

The verses I had written were stowed away safely on my laptop or in a well-worn notebook and hardly saw the light of day. I certainly didn’t think my attempts at writing would amount to anything worth putting in the public sphere. 

As I looked at people’s efforts, I realised I had no literary background to speak of; I had no idea what form or structure were, or even how to write anything beyond a basic four-line stanza. When I was in high school, I recall reading the set poems in literature class with awe but never daring to write my own. I simply had no tools and no talent, or so I told myself. 

Fast forward to this year and my friend has sent me a message, encouraging me to join the 30-day challenge of writing and posting a poem a day, for the month of April. I have a multitude of excuses at the tip of my tongue – burnout at work, mental fatigue and the dreaded creativity block. 

Yet, something stirs within me this time. I do not dismiss the reminder like I did before (is it the result of reading The Artists’ Way by Julia Cameron?). I take my friend’s suggestion seriously and nervously skim through the Facebook page to read the first prompt. It looks simple enough. I start writing and post my first poem on the page, thinking much less about the actual poem itself and enjoying the process of letting my mind wander and create. 

After posting that first poem, I am confronted with the multitude of poems from other users – so clever, so well-crafted, so deep – and my offering seems to pale by comparison. I am dejected, anchored in the belief that I will never reach the heights of poetic genius on display. My offering seems too simplistic, lacking in substance. I message my friend again and tell her that I’m not sure if I can keep writing for the next 30 days. She gently reminds me that

“The beauty lies in not the created product itself, but in the simple act of creation.”

It sounds somewhat familiar, and all of a sudden I realise I’ve heard this somewhere before. A quick browse of my reading list turns up John Paul II’s Letter to Artists, a beautiful text written by the late Pope and now saint on the importance of creative endeavours. He writes:

“Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen.”

I am thankful for this gentle nudge from a friend to keep writing. Since that first encounter, I’ve written through tough days at work, on the way to work, in the middle of the night – the important thing is I have kept writing. Even when I am not fully satisfied with what I have produced, I keep writing. 

I keep putting my poetry out there in the open. I relish the mental energies devoted to creating art out of words, finding the best ways to convey the emotion and meaning I have in mind. I am more than halfway through the challenge, far beyond my own expectations (remember, I was ready to give up on day one!). 

Maybe there’s a lesson in there for us all … we can all be poets in our own way, maybe not with words in every case, but, yes, with gestures and actions. Isn’t preparing a delicious meal, done with love, a work of poetry? To say nothing of the ‘poetry’ of so many carers who look after others with exquisite attention to detail. The challenge for us all is to be creative, not for the sake of a finished product, but to benefit from the process itself.

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