A Practice of Poetry


Joanna Rose


I PRACTICE POETRY most mornings.

I choose a collection of a single poet’s work, and I start at the beginning. I read each poem out loud, softly. Often twice. Often three times. After a few poems I stop on one, and copy it on a piece of paper, with a sharp pencil.

I look at the lines. I observe the meter. Consider nouns, or adjectives, the opening phrase, or an image. And I free-write from there, scrawling down the blank paper, wandering through my own phrases and images.

Sometimes I run out of words and then I start over, tinkering with line breaks or sounds.

I go through whole collections this way. Some are big. The collected poems of Jack Gilbert. Most are smaller. James Tate’s Memoir of the Hawk. Chicken Farmer I Still Love You, by Lana Hechtman Ayers.  Sometimes I choose a book just for its cover art.

I started Sylvia Plath but became anxious and unhappy and I put it away. Sometimes I don’t like the poems, as with Galway Kinnell’s When One Has Lived A Very Long Time Alone. That was unsettling to me, to discover I didn’t like that book. I started Wallace Stevens and ended up not writing that day, just reading and reading. I stopped writing poems and prose completely for a while when I read Yeats.


When I practice poetry like this, I go about my day, and my thinking seems scattered, but brightly focused, in small surprising ways. I see pieces of life in their particularity. I am bemused, or startled. I have come to understand this: I don’t think in sentences. I think in poem. Flash of image, whole thoughts falling on my head and settling in pieces around my feet. It takes sustained effort to gather the pieces. I feel like this is an important way to live.


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Joanna Rose has published stories, essays, poems, and a novel called Little Miss Strange (Algonquin), as well as other pieces that don’t fall into any of those categories. Her work appeared in CloudBank, Cream City Review, Oregon Humanities, Windfall, Timberline Review, Portland Review, and Zyzzyva, among others. She teaches youth through Literary Arts Writers in the Schools and Young Musicians & Artists. Her essay, “12 Elements,” appears in the Summer/Fall 2017 issue of The Timberline Review.