This is a question I hear all the time: You write poetry, huh, like song lyrics?
No, nothing like song lyrics. My best friend writes and performs her music and in the most basic fundamental elementary down-to-the-atoms way poetry is the opposite of song lyrics…
Poetry must stand on its own, it must bring a melody that carries through words rather than sound, it must be memorable without a rhythm to solidify its uniqueness, and finally (and most importantly) it survives on details rather than generalities.
My friend must make her experiences as general as possible to allow others to try them on and acclimate them to their own life. A song you hear is your song, about that time in college or when you took that trip. This is a skill separate from poetry, though it is just as difficult.
My poems must be specific, a reader should feel, smell, taste, touch and ache just as I did in the moment. A poem must be a tangible overwhelming truth, it also must be beautiful, memorable and realatible.
This poem has been edited before… the issues are in those details that no one will understand… The question becomes whether they add to the overall piece or if they alienate the reader too much. There is no perfect formula for this, you will just have to try over and over until you get it right…
That said this is also a personal poem, about a dear friend who shares many inside jokes and secret words with me… taking that out of the poem would deflate the meaning, but leaving it in ma alienate the reader… So the key is to make the message of friendship universal through our personal details.
Whenever I edit this poem I always worry about words like fish-hook and if burnt cupcakes are the items I really want to highlight… they are limiting in their relatability and yet contain exactly what I want to say about the friendship… There is also an underlying level of tension that reflects negatively on the comroderie that I always try to add to or clip out… I could edit this 1,000 more times and it will never be right… which sometimes means its done.
Your poem must be about your life… When you struggle to write about something deeply personal, remember to balance those needed details with generalities that are universal. In this case, friendship is a universal commodity. While there is only one friendship like this one, the notion of secrets, a language all our own and details that are singular in their nature, there are millions of friendships that grow apart and millions of nostalgic readers who could relate to the ending of this poem… In this case it goes from small to big. As long as the universal and the singular exist in harmony, the poem is a success.