“Sinking Mountain” – an original poem

Sinking Mountain

Be alarmed, My Love! 
A Mountain has made
residence in our kitchen
sink. It sprung forth out
of our garbage disposal,
arms of stone reaching
high unto the overarching
dripping faucet.

Did the drip-drops feed
this growing Monster, this
festering creature that
threatens the faucets ending
and our weekly buying of
paper plates? O my love!
This Mountain -- with its
plastic peaks and blown -
glass crevices -- could it
have spread its steep silicone
sides elsewhere in our home?

-  J. E. Harms

The Evolution of a Haiku

Recently while on my University’s campus, I was struck by two images: daffodils bending to a soft, pattering rain and a clock ticking away in the quiet English department student lounge.

Now it is not often that I decide to write Haikus. Haiku is not my preferred style of poetry, but there are those moments when I see an image and I know immediately that the best way to display it in words is in the simple poetic form of haiku.

So to the best of my ability, I will show you how I came to my finishing decisions on each haiku that I wrote that particular rainy afternoon.

The Clock Haiku

As I contemplated the clock in the study lounge, the first word that came to my mind was gentleman. I feel like clocks and gentlemen have a lot in common: reliability, consistency, steadiness, and selflessness. And, not coincidentally, they both like to know what the time is, and to tell others the time.

Now the second image that popped into my mind was a mustache. The hour-hand of the clock had dipped to 4, and the minute hand inched its way to 4:45pm. It was an odd and uneven mustache stretching across the definitions of time, but it seemed like a mustache all the same.

So from those two images, came all of these lines:

Haiku Round 1 (with rambling)

That gentleman on the wall with
the ever lilting looping mustache...
Oh, Dear! Look at the time!

My skirts follow in a flutter
My self-pressed steps

Painful pumps digging deeper
Into muddy depths that I stare down

Down, down, ignoring the soar
Of cherry blossoms above

My tousled hair receives its adventurous
Petals, the ones that decided to

Let go.

Now, I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing I thought after I looked back at those lines: “Wow, that took an interesting turn!” I absolutely agree. I had taken the aspect of time and pushed it into me as a poetic character, rushing and passing other images I’d seen, such as the Cherry blossoms blooming by one of the academic halls I pass every day. In doing so, I veered incredibly far from the form I’d originally wanted. The above is nothing close to a haiku. More like… possibilities for many different haikus. But this is a testimony to the effectiveness of stream of consciousness writing, and then returning to what you have written to find what you actually want to work with.

So I filtered out those extra ideas–rushing, cherry blossoms and tousled hair–that took away from the immediate image that I saw: the clock. So my next step was to write three lines that fit into the popular haiku form: 5 syllables, 7 syllables, and then 5 syllables for the last line. Here is my first attempt:

Haiku A

That gentleman with
the lilting, looping mustache;
Time whispers from walls.

In Haiku A, I kept several elements of the original few lines, but I nitpicked through the words and kept only the most necessary. I kept gentleman because that word and image is important to me in order to bring this clock to life. The words lilting, looming mustache are musical and key to the idea that the hour-hands form a moving mustache. And then I still wanted the word wall or walls included.

In the next version, let’s say Haiku B, I simply switched some of the words around, and played more with the idea of the clock’s mustache.

Haiku B

The gentleman on
The wall is lilting, looping
His mustache ‘round time.

Immediately after writing this second version, I liked it the most. But since then I have asked others for their opinions on the two different versions, and everyone I have asked preferred Haiku B.

I think this is because the first two lines of Haiku A are a single image combined, which is separated by the semi-colon from the third line. This gives the third line more of a punch, whereas the the third line in Haiku B is a continuation of the word “looping” from its second line. Perhaps Haiku B feels more cohesive as a whole, but I often find that purposeful separation in poetry is more satisfying to a reader than a jumble of togetherness. Readers need places to breathe, contemplate and anticipate.

The Daffodil Haiku

Now remember the other image I had seen that day? Daffodils stooping in the rain? Well, this also budded into another haiku:

Daffodils A

Why do daisies sink
Their sunshine heads when rain
Fulfills earthiness?

I love the word sink; it came out naturally as I thought about the stooping motion of the flowers beneath the weight of the soft rain. But I’m not sure how the word earthiness made its way into the verse. I understand what I was going for, but no one needs an explanation that daffodils or flowers are related to the earth or the concept of earthiness.

 Also note that I took the creative liberty to change daffodils to daisies. I did not want to, as they are very different kinds of yellow flowers, but when writing haikus one must think about the count of syllables.

Still, I was rather convicted for leaving behind the concept of Daffodils. So what did I do? I researched other names that Daffodils are known by, and found a nice (and not coincidentally poetic) correlation with the greek god Narcissus. According to Flowers & Plants by Interflora, the name of the daffodil family is Narcissus. “It is so called because its bulb houses a toxic substance – the Greek word ‘narcissus’ means ‘numbness’, so it is a reference to its narcotic nature.” So not only have I found a more creative way to name daffodils, I have learned more about the plant itself. (Take a look at the interesting facts of why Narcissus is another term for Daffodil.)

All of these ideas—rain, steeples, sunshine, color, and numbness—they all mixed in so many different emotions and moody messages; and I finally saw the potential of this little poem.

Daffodils B

Narcissus, why do
You sink your sunshine steeples?
‘Tis but drops of rain.

Which changed yet again! As I created the featured image for this post, I was looking at the poem so much that I realized I did not like the word do hanging at the end of the first line. Its sound was not soft enough or inclusive enough to fully lead to the second line. And I began to wonder which is more cheesy, sunshine or sunrise? Maybe I should let you decide.

My final version is as seen on the featured image:


Narcissus, why sink
your golden sunrise steeples?
‘Tis but drops of rain.

Talk about how poetry can change at any time!

So which version of which haikus do you like? And why? Also, do you think it’s crazy that I’ve still thought up even more variations of these haikus? I certainly do! But I love searching through all sorts of different versions of this concise poetic form to find the perfect words for the perfect image. Thank you for reading!

Writing a Poetry Book: 3 Things I’ve Learned in the Process

Yes! My literary friends, I am writing a poetry book, and have been working on this particular collection for over a year now; and I’ve been learning so much as I’ve dove into this arduous and satisfying process. Here are a few things that I’ve been realizing or learning while taking on the challenge of writing and compiling my poetry for a very specific collection.

1. I limited myself with the ideas of chapters and sections

When I created my first chapbook (please don’t judge it too hard, I was younger when I wrote it), I separated it into sections and thought myself so professional in doing so. But I did that after I had already written every poem that was in the book. And in my defense, I think it worked rather well. I had poems that fit those four different categories, guiding the reader to what they’re feeling like reading at the time; which I always think is nice, but I can also be limiting depending on the collection. If a reader is only reading your poetry section on Love, will they flip to the rest of the book still?

In brainstorming for this current growing collection of poetry, I began to do a similar process. I took a main theme from my title and split it up into three to four sections. “I’ll pair these type of poems with this image-inspired headline, but then these other poems I’ll put in this other section!” But I now realize that I was too eager. At that time I had probably 12 or 13 publish-ready poems, and some of them didn’t even quite fit those elaborated categories. And when I tried to write poems to put into those categories, it felt fake and forced.

So I’ve ditched the idea, and now I am focused on writing the poems that come to me, that I chase down, and that I catch wonderful quick glimpses of around every corner of life. If I write poems for a specific category, then I’m losing sight of the larger picture, the larger theme that I’m hovering over: the first few years of marriage.

2. Individual poems can be a long time coming

I’m sitting on a nest of ideas for poems. They’re all written down: a few lines, different titles, a simple abstract image, or moments and situations that I know need poetic attention… but these eggs cannot hatch until they decide to hatch by themselves.

I try to revisit my notes, take in what I have written, and as a result I’ll often remember where and when the original inspiration came from. But if I don’t feel the inspiration recurring in the moment or those similar desires coming back, I’ll set it aside and wait for the next time to check up on those growing fledglings of poems.

But of course, this doesn’t mean “Don’t Write” if the inspiration isn’t there. Just write about something else; write about the thing that is your current interest right now. That’s what I’m trying to do to my utmost. And when I’m able to return to the nest of ideas, I usually return to find new inspiration made a home with them while I waited patiently.

3. The Title can appear out of NOWHERE

My husband and I were coming up on half a year of being married, and the poems were simply piling up. I knew that I wanted to work towards a poetry book that was loosely about my first year (now “years”) of marriage, but I hadn’t even taken the time to think of a title. Until one day while we were bustling to leave the house for an appointment that we were late to, one of us, I can’t even remember who, said an ironic phrase that hit both of us as a hilarious title for a poem: one that defined marriage in its own sweet hilarity.

I won’t say it, so sorry. But the phrase kept bouncing all over my head with so much energy, and to my surprise it was whirling around in my husband’s head as well. Before we even left the house he told me, “You need to make that the title of your poetry book.” So it was settled, and has been settled for nearly 9 months! I still haven’t thought up anything better, and honestly I hope that I never do.

Would you like to know more about my poetry collection writing process? Share in the comments! Also, who else is compiling their own poetry collection? Do you have a theme? Ideas? And what are some things you have been learning through the process? I’d love to hear your stories.