The Poetry of One Brief, Shining Moment

Ours is a God of Irony. I often invoke this fact when people confront me about my illogical fear of flying, especially if they know I love roller coasters.

“Wait a minute,” they say. “You won’t get on the safest form of transportation known to man, the airplane, but you will get into a car to drive all over hell and gone. And on top of that, you strap yourself into roller coasters each summer? Freakin’ roller coasters?”

OK, OK. Point made. And if I die in a car or roller coaster accident, the God of Irony will chalk another one up (with an omnipotent chuckle because, in this world, you take laughs where you can get them).

These thoughts dawned on me as I read Ginger Murchison’s poem “Roller Coaster.” Why? Because the average roller coaster ride lasts 112 seconds, which means, as a writer, you have less than two minutes to absorb all the sensory shocks your body is subjected to by the experience, followed by all the time you want to think about it and craft a poem.

In that sense, the roller coaster ride is an apt metaphor for writing. Many instructors suggest you “explode the moment” or “zoom in” and describe an event that lasts only minutes or less.

Why? Because less experienced writers get trapped by “dawn-to-dusk” writing or, worse, “Monday-to-Sunday” writing or, worse still, “How-I-Misspent-My-Summer-Vacation” writing.

No, no, no. If you squeeze yourself into a teeny-tiny clown car, you will be subjected to an overload of sensory details and figurative language ideas to describe the cramped experience.

In the case of poetry inspiration, however, it will be brief experience alone, not a brief (and very scary, if clowns are in there) automobile experience you’ll be writing about.

I’ll leave you with Murchison’s example and my own encouragement to write about a brief, shining moment from your life. Think about all those sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences of touch. Think about what everything’s like. And make it a metaphor for life, if you want to show off (and you do). Good luck!


Roller Coaster
Ginger Murchison

It starts with the climbing in,
nerved-up enough
for that defiance
of gravity, the slow-grind
rackety-clack one-inch cog
at a time—the mystery of machinery,
the sane and safe weightedness
of stiff-starched values,
wondering if there were
sins we’d committed
since our last confession, then
at the top, out on the edge,
beyond the solid-ground world
parents live in, test life,
theirs and our own, up where
we are a hole in the sky,
wholly abandoned in the eyes-
shut, heart-stopped drop,
like lawlessness on falling’s
crisp speed, the first curve, a blur,
the world’s suddenness,
metal, air and a prayer
half-mouthed, spun,
flung into another plunge,
a curve swerving,
a tiny boat in a tempest—
and isn’t this how we want
to live, live higher up,
hungry to leave the ground,
flinging sparks, the lights brighter,
the dark darker, bodies at war
with mere air, but still obedient
to the tracks laid down
to keep us on track.