Cheryl Moskowitz writes for adults and children. She loves going in to schools to get pupils, teachers and parents writing their own poems – a film of her poetry residency at Highfield Primary School is wonderful viewing on her website. Her popular collection of poems about home, school and everything in between, Can It Be About Me?, illustrated by Ros Asquith, is published by Janetta Otter-Barry Books. Her website is here.
Here is a wonderful piece by Cheryl about poetic inspiration.
Starting with Firsts
Remember all your firsts? Of course you do. First taste of a mushroom, first sight of snow, first pet dying, first hold of a new born baby, first poem you ever wrote? Maybe you don’t remember these things exactly, but there is something about the first time we do or experience anything that goes inside us and stays there, not just as a memory but as a feeling, a sense, a quality, a je ne sais quois. That is because our first encounter with people, things, places and experiences is usually more heightened than similar ones that come after. These internalised moments, these ‘firsts’ let’s call them, are what shape us from the very moment we’re born and keep on shaping us – they are also what make up the well that poets draw from when writing their poetry.
Life deals its fair share of firsts, some will be awe-inspiring (the first time we see a rainbow) some wonderful (the first time you win a prize) and some desperately sad and difficult (the first time you have to move away from a home, a school or a country that you love). In truth, almost every day, each of us will experience at least one new thing we have never experienced before. Even if it is only the fact of being one day older than the day before.
Not every first experience will inspire a poem but the ones that really matter, might. I would encourage any budding poet to take note of those moments as they happen. Write down what you notice, and how it makes you feel, even if the feelings are a little bit sad. I love this poem by the Canadian poet Alden Nowlan, in which a father expresses his pride at how his son has managed his first real experience of loss by writing a poem.
Look! I’ve written a poem!
and hands it to me
and it’s about
his grandfather dying
last summer, and me
in the hospital
and I want to cry,
don’t you see, because it doesn’t matter
if it’s not very good:
what matters is he knows
and it was me, his father, who told him
you write poems about what
you feel deepest and hardest.
© Alden Nowlan
Article © Cheryl Mokowitz