Writing While Reading: A Healthy Habit

When I read poetry books, I often keep an open notebook beside me so I can copy down a few words or lines that teach me the craft of good poetry. It’s better than highlighting a book, because the act of handwriting gives the brain a better work-out than mere coloring.

Yes, the words are out of context, but this is a supplementary-type exercise. Make no mistake—I reread poems that speak to me many times over. But I also like the warm-up activity of just rereading a few wondrous words working wonderfully together.

What does that look like? As I just finished Jenny George’s The Dream of Reason, I’ll wrap up with my third and final post devoted to this book by sharing examples from her book—a few Jenny George gems. Even out of context they shine!


a small lie has flowered between them

Each day the same
scandal–this body.
These teeth and hands.

Briefly the trees hold the light in their arms.

then winter came
enclosed the lake in glass, and sealed
the dark cavern of our questions

The earth’s low vapors burning into light–
air shimmering with insects.

like the moon’s unlit side,
the side without grammar

the dark is full of purring moths

the bat…a leather change purse
moving across the floor boards

Another morning: raw sun on the snow
…the sun burning a white hole in the sky

I stuffed their ears with the wooly sound of sleep.

The fields are wrung dry
and laid out like a flag.

At night the stars fall from their Bethlehems…

Their hides growling and prehistoric,
fed on the rich darkness

The small stones of their hooves in the stony field

These tiny people, thoughts thrumming like mice.

A quick net of starlings
drops to the furrows.

My tooth was loose, a snag in the clam of my mouth

A jay made a hole in the air with its cry

In the sky a cloud goes on naming and unnaming itself.


Often it’s as simple as an unusual word pairing that works—the stuff good poetry is made of. Reading a journal of notes like this before writing your own poetry limbers the creative cranium nicely. You need to think of everyday things in unusual ways, after all. Or so it says in the job description of a poet.

Maybe the habit’s a foolish thing, a “hobgoblin” (forgive me, Mr. Emerson) of this little mind. But I like it. So there it is.

Happy Hump Day, friends!