Robert Frost said, “A poem … begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.”
His poems began as feelings. A frown or smile or furrowed brow of feeling. And since feelings don’t just spontaneously self-create inside our chests, for Frost neither did poems. Rather, when something, someone, some thought birthed a feeling, that was the heart of a poem.
But why write it down and shape those words into poetry? As a poet, my answer is this: to share that emotion with others, to offer my fellow humans a chance to empathize. Outwardly, our lives may seem alien to each other, but poems can plug into our universal emotions, transcending our differences to highlight our common humanity.
Though falling in love may have inspired millions of poems, to merely write, “I’m in love” is too abstract if I am to connect. In poems, abstractions are plexiglass panels between writer and reader, keeping our hearts from touching. But concrete sensory details (sight, sound, etc.) give readers ways to embody our experience.
For instance, love is filling my clear plastic tumbler with scalding water, scooping dusty coffee, then watching it bloom through the water — like the emotion I feel when my girlfriend laughs at my jokes.
Who can’t relate to that?
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.