Writing Poems

I’ve just added my sixth poem to my lectionary project.  It took a month to write and I don’t like it.  I have added it to the collection because I’ve stopped fighting with it and need to move on.

The struggle is between simply retelling a story and responding to a story.  Over the years I’ve taken a number of lay speaker classes from my church, where I’ve learned how to craft a sermon based on a Bible story.  Speaking comes naturally to me and telling stories is easy.  When preaching to a church audience the goal is to take a fragment of a passage, translate it, make it meaningful, and provide an insight with perhaps a touch of humor.

That is retelling a story.  The story of the prodigal son can be rewritten in modern language, with modern characters and possibly in entertaining and memorable ways.  Perhaps the father owns a shoe factory rather than a farm.  The son runs away to Las Vegas and becomes a parking lot attendant.  Meaning, metaphor, and the lesson can remain.

That is a retelling.

Responding is different.  In response you ask how does this story make you feel?  What images resonate in your mind?  What is the story truly saying to you – what life changing message is there?

Responding to the prodigal son would not tell of farms, pigs or fatted calfs.

Responding would be imaging you’re the father watching your son walk away – do you cry?

Responding would be you as the older brother watching your brother, the brat, return to a triumphal party, that’s never been given for you.

Responding would be speaking of old brother’s hurt, the father’s relief, and younger son’s confusion.

And there lies the problem I have with writing poems based on fragments of scripture.  My training, my intellect, my writer brain naturally bends toward the unemotional retelling – the translation, the moral, the simplistic – The Answer. 

While in my heart I know I need to not tell you a story, but rather show you my response to the story – my emotion, the pictures I see, the changes in my heart and the questions rising in my soul.  Often I write two poems, a retelling and a response.  I fight to not simply rephrase what Matthew has said. 

And then I find emotion is often flawed.  Sometimes the feeling I have feels wrong – like I’ve not understood the passage.  I, the older brother, should be happy like my father, but yet there is anger, hurt, and resentment.  And yet, true response should include everything so we can allow the power of the words to take us somewhere beyond a mere story.

It’s a struggle I have.

Sometime ago I wrote a comment on Jacqui Murray’s WordDreams blog with some advice for writing a poem.  I started writing a little advice that turned into a poem.  She was kind enough to include them in a post last October about National Poetry Day.

This poem comes to my mind often when I am working on my poems.  I share them with you and hope it’s something you can use:

Advice for Writing a Poem

Sit in a quiet room and let the words come to you.
Stand in the noisy concert and let the rhythms of the music beat the words into you.

Listen to the babbling brook and write down all it says.

It’s all about the feeling
the emotion,
the image,
the metaphor.

It’s about letting your emotions run wild
and then corralling them in 12 lines.

It’s about explaining rocks to apples.
It’s about comparing nails to clouds.
It’s about seeing infinity in a glass of water.


and so I look to rocks and clouds and speak of my struggle with the words.



About Andrew Reynolds

Born in California Did the school thing studying electronics, computers, release engineering and literary criticism. I worked in the high tech world doing software release engineering and am now retired. Then I got prostate cancer. Now I am a blogger and work in my wood shop doing scroll saw work and marquetry.
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25 Responses to Writing Poems

  1. Love this!! Thanks for sharing. ☺

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love this advice! So accurate

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You are a multi-talented person, Andrew. You write about carpentry, your grandchildren, travels and poetry. So talented on many levels.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Helo I am new to wordpress and still figuring it out..I write poems. I would be great if you could check out my latest post. Thankyou

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Roy says:

    The advice would be helpful for all the budding writers…thanks sir

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Debra says:

    You do an excellent job of explaining your dilemma and the struggle, Andrew. I admire the way you’re attempting to honestly engage with scripture and to take whatever piece, fragment or entire story and turn it into thoughtful and meaningful poetry. I feel like the fact you’re “soaking” in scripture in this way is bound to eventually come through in your poetry with a more satisfactory response. And then in some ways, is it even possible for an artist to be truly happy with the project, always wondering what more could be developed. It does sound like a daunting, but really meaningful effort.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I have a feeling Andrew that when you revisit your poem, your heart/spirit will find that balance between retelling and responding, and the struggle will have borne beautiful fruit!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I now have an interesting PS to add to this. My wife, Heather, proofreads for me and I gave her this post and the poem I was working on. She read everything and then wrote a new version of my poem for me. It’s good, so I now have a fresh view of it and likely the poem that makes the collection with contain parts of her and my poem.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. CJ Hartwell says:

    Yes, I see what you mean. The novels and poems that meant the most to me — that remain in spite of my spotty memory — are the ones that didn’t merely tell a story, but drew me in and helped me experience it. It’s a great challenge for writers, but well worth the struggle.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Allan G. Smorra says:

    I, too, struggle with these issues, Andrew. Years and years of writing lists and keeping logbooks result in a tendency to retell a story and not to respond so much. I’m with Diane (see above) when she says that your discussion of the differences has helped me to understand it. Thanks for putting it into words that speak to me.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I find myself wishing I could hear one of your sermons. Northern California isn’t that far away. Hmm…

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I’m fascinated by your discussion of responding vs retelling. It makes perfect sense now that you’ve explained it, but I hadn’t considered the difference until you brought it up. (And I love your poem, too.)

    Liked by 4 people

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