Mommy, Where Do Poems Come From?

Too bad the poem-stork explanation has fallen out of fashion lately.

It’s the dreaded question, the one you hoped never to be asked because it means choosing between shattering your child’s idyllic view of the world and straight-up lying to them. But now they’ve asked, and you’ve got to say something. If you dodge the question with an “I don’t know,” you lose all credibility as a parent. They’ll be assigning you chores by next week. But if they’re not quite ready for the truth, you still have a few options.

1. The Wordsworth Approach

What he said: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”

What you tell your kid: “Honey, sometimes you have a lot of feelings. And eventually they just bubble up and make a poem—but not until later, when you’re not all full of emotions. Don’t write poems when your emotions are too strong. That’s important.”

2. The Homeric Approach

What he said: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story”

What you tell your kid: “I know this might be hard to understand, but sometimes poems aren’t actually yours. Somebody else wrote them but they need you to take them out into the world. So you treat them just like your own and you can even put your name on them and pretend you wrote them yourself.”

3. The F. Scott Fitzgerald Approach

What he said (about writing his first published poem): “If you weren’t able to function in action you might at least be able to tell about it, because you felt the same intensity—it was a back door way out of facing reality.”

What you tell your kid: “Well sweetie, sometimes you try really hard to write a poem and you just can’t. It can be a lot of pressure. But later when you’re by yourself, you think about how hard you tried and how much you really wanted it, and you write a poem about that.”

4. The W.S. Merwin Approach

What he said: “Poetry is like making a joke. If you get one word wrong at the end of a joke, you’ve lost the whole thing.”

What you tell your kid: “Just remember that writing poems is a delicate process, and it doesn’t always work. And that’s ok, because  you can always try again later. And remember that drinking makes you slur your words, so stay away from alcohol while you’re writing.”

5. The Eliot Approach

What he said: “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.”

What you tell your kid: “Poems don’t always have to be full of emotion. Sometimes you just want to forget about your life for one night, and then you wake up in the morning and there it is. A little idea for a poem right when you least expected it.”


Which would you choose?


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