A Poem for a Stranger

“Why?” her eyes were placid sapphires, dim in their glimmering reflection of the night sky.

I leaned in and whispered, “Because you are the sort of girl they write poetry for.”

Girl in Silhouette - on the beach

Image courtesy of Flickr by Chris. P

I was right. This was the sort of girl whose smile shone bright, showing you something you’d been missing without even realizing it. The best part was, she didn’t even know she was that girl. It was heartbreaking, in a way, knowing that the substance of this connection—this finally tangible reaching—would vanish just as quickly as it was found. But that which we can’t capture in life, we capture in words.

Here’s an exercise to add a bit of romance in your life, along with an example from my world-wandering travels.

A Poem for a Stranger

What this exercise does: Participants write a poem about an experience, person, place, or object they have lost.

What this exercise is for: This exercise helps poets recognize how experience can be integrated with poetic expression, giving a hands-on experience of using concrete details to empower poetry and showing how poems can capture a sense of loss, transience, or nostalgia.

Poetry is meant to capture the ephemeral, the evanescent, and the lost. As such, those lost and imperfect connections are the perfect opportunity for a poem. Here are the rules for this exercise.

  • Step one. Pick a subject. Your subject must be a person, place, or thing that you had an emotional reaction to but that you expect never to experience again. This can be in your recent or not-so-recent past, and it can be something as significant as a whirlwind vacation or as everyday as a person you saw on the street but didn’t have the courage to talk to.
  • Step two. Write down the elements of that experience that made it powerful to you. This can be in words, sentence fragments, or fully-formed thoughts.
  • Step three. Write a poem by connecting these ideas. If some ideas must be discarded, that’s okay; use these emotional incites as a way to fuel the poem rather than restrict it.
  • Step four. Go back through the poem and add concrete details associated with the place, person, or object, using these concrete details as a way to illuminate the emotional impact of the experience.
  • Step five. Reflect on how the sense of loss, disconnection, or gratitude for the fleeting experience has colored your perspective. If desired, integrate those sensations into the poetry’s thread-work.
  • No formal restrictions are necessary. Don’t worry about using specific styles. Don’t worry about a specific length (but aim for a minimum of 10 lines). Don’t worry about writing in a specific form.

Please, if you’re feeling brave, post your poem in the comments! I’d love to see what you come up with.