Poem and illustration by Michelle Garren Flye. Copyright 2021.
Tomorrow begins one of my personal favorite months of the year. National Poetry Month. This month has been a big part of my life for several years now, since before I even began thinking of myself as a “Poet”. I started out teaching kids about poetry and how to write it, which is so much fun. Now I’m on a different quest. I’m trying to get rid of the stigma poetry has.
Poetry is not scary.
Poetry is not boring.
Poetry is not difficult to understand (okay, some of it might be, but it isn’t necessarily hard to understand).
Reading poetry can be soothing. Listening to someone else read poetry can be very entertaining.
Writing poetry has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever attempted.
So my quest, this month and, really, always, is to convince people that poetry is accessible. It’s really a part of most of our lives, anyway. When you listen to the words of your favorite song, you’re listening to poetry. And yes, I include rap music in this. (Yes, Bob Dylan deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature.)
This month I’m challenging myself in another way, too. I’m planning to write and illustrate a haiku every day. I may throw in some other types of poetry, too, but haiku will be my main focus. I love the form, and I need practice.
At the end of the month, I plan to publish UnSong, my collection of illustrated poetry. It’s pretty much complete now, but I have some fellow poets and writers still looking it over and offering critiques. Thanks to the ones who’ve already offered their feedback, I feel pretty confident in it, but I’m still working on a few changes.
Anyway, watch this space. I’ll be back tomorrow with an illustrated haiku.
I am so in love with my new project I’ve been working practically nonstop on it since last week. It’s tough when you’ve got a project like this that you can’t wait to see finished…but you’ve got to stop and do mundane things like pay the bills and get ready for taxes and, well, eat and sleep. (Though I will say I’ve sacrificed a bit of the latter.)
So I’ve been working nonstop since last week and I’ve gotten about halfway with the illustrations. But I just can’t wait to share at least one. So I chose one of my favorite haiku. Here it is with the illustration I finished just last night:
If you’ve seen my graphic novel HourGlass, you’ll recognize where I got the idea for this one. This is half the battle, too. Though most of my poetry is pretty easy to illustrate, some of it isn’t. This one actually took me a while. If you’ve ever tried to draw rain, you’ll understand why. It’s not the easiest thing to draw. I played around with different “brushes” on my iPad and finally realized it was the hand that was the important part of the poem, not the wind and rain. And thanks to HourGlass, I already knew how to draw a ghost-like hand. Lol.
Anyway, I’m off to illustrate more poetry. Maybe write one or two as well. There’s one I’ve included in this book that I may not be able to use as I’ve also entered it into a contest. I’m at least half hoping it doesn’t win (which it probably won’t) because it’s the best one I have and could easily take up a two-page spread, and I have the illustration all planned out. Well, we shall see, right?
If it does win, maybe I can still include it and add a line to the front cover: “Contains the award-winning poem—————”
Do you remember the first book you ever read without pictures in it? It probably happened about fifth grade, at least that’s when I remember it.
It felt like a mistake, right? You were told to use your imagination to picture the characters and scenes, and I know I learned how to do that. It was so much work, though, I only really wanted to read the same books—my favorites—over and over. When I was assigned a book to read in school, it was almost always a chore, though some of those classics did make it into my favorites stack.
I’ve read plenty of books now, using my imagination to fill in the blanks left by the lack of art, but I started wondering. Why omit the art? Why not provide a few illustrations? Maybe that’s why graphic novels are surging in the marketplace. I know I still love a good comic book.
With poetry, in particular, there’s a definite need for art. Poetry is not just words. Poetry grows from feelings, is inspired by sights, might be as amorphous as a scent.
Other poets, of course, have already discovered what I’m just now concluding. I mean, look at Shel Silverstein. Also, I recently picked up Gabbie Hanna’s beautiful book of illustrated poetry dandelion in a bookstore (ahem, not mine), read the very first poem in it and got tears in my eyes.
So, like I always do, I’m throwing all my thoughts and feelings about something (in this case poetry), into a big kettle and seeing what boils out. So far, I’ve got most of the poems I’m planning to use and a few of the illustrations…and a title.
What if Valentine’s Day was a way to renew what you feel instead of declare it?
By Michelle Garren Flye
Fold up your petals
Don’t dare to emerge
On this not-even-just-spring-day
You’ll win no medals
In the pre-spring surge
Sp don’t dare rush along the way
But maybe the one who meddles
And pushes life to the verge
Daring to jump ahead of the fray
Will be the one who gentles
That which would otherwise scourge
Maybe Love’s daring will keep us safe.
Okay, so there’s this songwriter/musician I follow on Instagram and am a little obsessed with. (His work, not him!) Recently he’s been posting these amazing pictures of new songs he’ll be coming out with this year. They’re all neatly handwritten in a really cool looking journal with rough-edged, linen-like paper, and they brought back memories of trying to handwrite stories and poems in my own journals back before I progressed to a typewriter and then to a Brother word processor and finally to my MacBook.
I decided I should try handwriting again. So I’ve been carrying around a journal (mine is lined because my handwriting goes hopelessly uphill if I have no guides). I’m not exactly sure why, but poetry eluded me for some time while I carried that journal. I think it was fear. I think I was honestly afraid that if I tried to write something in a journal, I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Last night, just as I was supposed to begin making dinner, inspiration finally struck and I rushed for my journal and a pen and started writing. What came out of my pen isn’t exactly what inspiration whispered to me, but I don’t think I did too badly. It’s definitely different writing on paper and not as easy for my inner editor to make me rethink things. A good pen makes a huge difference. I like this one, but it’s one I picked up at my dentist’s, so it may not last long. I’ve never liked writing with a pencil (too scratchy), but I may try that next time.
I haven’t even titled this poem, either. I hope I can read it when I go to transcribe it onto the computer. My handwriting isn’t awful, but as you can see, my inner editor did kick in once or twice, resulting in a few scratch-outs.
What this experience did remind me of was that I didn’t start taking my own writing seriously UNTIL I had a computer. Until I could sit in front of a screen and type my words in and erase as necessary and have a finished product that looked like it should, I was almost literally frozen creatively. I had ideas, but when I sat down to write them, they poofed away.
Is my inner editor that strong? Did it keep me from being creative for years by whispering to me that my ideas wouldn’t turn out right if I wrote them out on a legal pad? If so, what would happen to me tomorrow if the EMP finally happens? If all computers are wiped out, will it take my creativity with it?
Maybe I better try writing in that journal more often.
I’ve been entering contests, so I haven’t had much to put up here recently since most contests won’t accept previously published poetry. I wrote this one this morning, though. because my daffodils are already starting to bloom, and I decided I should share it here instead of trying for fame.
Taking the Lead
By Michelle Garren Flye
There’s always one to emerge before winter’s done.
Poking bright petals out to the sun, as if no one will care.
It seems as if the cold air should bring on despair
But you must lead the way, the charge before spring
When there’s still too much bite for the robin’s wing.
Why come out now, oh, little yellow flower?
Why stick your neck out before the seasons change?
Don’t you know you have no real power
And your appearance now is nothing but strange?
The frost will still nip you back when you bud.
But maybe you’re here to bring hope to us all.
Maybe your courage will stir all our blood!
Why wait for the rest of the world to stand tall?
There must be one to lead the way
To hold up the standard and show that we care.
That first soldier marches so we have one to follow
Like the little yellow flower that doesn’t mind cold air
And risks a frosty death in a show of bravado.
Make no mistake. It’s not going to be easy to come back from where we are. “Hard” has more than one meaning.
A Hard Left
By Michelle Garren Flye
Safe footing may take a while.
We’ve hovered so long over the abyss
Trembled with fear, mile after mile
Lips stuttering our tremulous wish
Oh, safety, security, sanity, please
Return to us in our daily life
We know you embody the keys
To free us from all this strife
Now we understand how hell feels
Evil creeping in through marble halls
Peril lingers here, flames lick our heels
Darkness still beckons with wanton calls
We’ve landed just this side of hell
We’ve still got such a long way to go
And our journey may not go well
But at least the direction we now know
Stand still a second before taking a step
Gain your balance, then make a hard left.