3 Sentences, 1 Poem

Some students, many good writers, claim that they just don’t “do” poetry. Too difficult. Too many rules. Too much of a challenge.

To which I say, “OK, then. Pick a topic that interests you and write descriptive prose. When you’re happy, we’ll look at ways to convert it.”

Purists may frown upon such practices, and naysayers may jeer that it reveals poetry for what it really is—plain old sentences broken willy-nilly into lines, but who ever listens to purists and naysayers? White noise at the fringes isn’t worth anyone’s time.

As an experiment, let’s work the other way. Here’s a Marge Piercy poem written out as a three-sentence paragraph:


The rain that came down last night in sheets of shaken foil while thunder trundled over the Bay and crooked spears of lightning splintered trees is rising now up stalks, lengthening leaves that wave their new bright banners tender as petals, seventeen shades of green pushing into sun. The soil feels sweet in my hands as I push little marigolds in. Bumblebees stir in the sour cherry blossoms floating like pieces of moon down to the red tulips beneath the smooth barked tree where a red squirrel chatters at my rescued tabby who eyes him like a plate of lunch.


If she wrote the above, called “May Opens Wide,” it would be labeled a “prose poem, ” a term and form considered ugly ducklings in the swan-like world of poetry. Still, it contains poetic elements—techniques encouraged not only in poetry but in fiction and even essay writing: Active verbs. Specific nouns. Alliteration. Metaphor. Simile. Personification. Imagery. Hungry cats.

Wait. Not that last one, but cats can’t hurt. Consider their power (still inexplicable by rational beings) as pictures and videos on the Internet.

What happens when you take three sentences and mold a poem from them? You could apply rules, though rules are made to be broken. For instance, you might want your lines to be somewhat even and pleasing to the eye. You might want stanzas of the same number of lines (below, as quatrains). And you might want to hold last and first word positions in the lines for more important words, overall.

The result? Something like the poem form below. And if a student writer (or adult writer, for that matter) allergic to poetry achieves poetry one if by prose and two if by prose, too, so be it. In the words of the prophet, “There’s more than one way to skin a poem.”


May Opens Wide
Marge Piercy

The rain that came down last night
in sheets of shaken foil while thunder
trundled over the Bay and crooked
spears of lightning splintered trees

is rising now up stalks, lengthening
leaves that wave their new bright
banners tender as petals, seventeen
shades of green pushing into sun.

The soil feels sweet in my hands
as I push little marigolds in.
Bumblebees stir in the sour cherry
blossoms floating like pieces of moon

down to the red tulips beneath
the smooth barked tree where a red
squirrel chatters at my rescued tabby
who eyes him like a plate of lunch.