How to Commit a Crime and Get Away With It
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The Idea

There is a glow-in-the-dark star painted over in B&B white, its shape glued to the shoddy-cut fir masquerading as oaken four-by-fours, only seen by ceiling-watching children and those with enough rods in their eyes to see at night. There is a magnolia tree on the Appalachian Trail carved in the sigils of seven hundred lovers, an army of initials and crosses starring its weeping trunk, a memorial to adrenaline-induced passion so fleeting which none but fellow lovers will ever see. There is a room with baby-yellow curtains curling and fluttering in the winter draft from a wall punched in by the shockwave that heralded months of bullet-fire.

Poetry is many things. In the depths of a building inhabited more by graduate students than their mentors, there is a classroom. On a slide upheld in light by a projector fixed by a student with Wikihow and a screwdriver, there is a quote illuminated in MS Paint blue: The Brain — is wider than the Sky — / For — put them side by side — / The one the other will contain / With ease — and You — beside. 6:30 in the morning, the room’s ceiling old enough to remember when the air was clogged by cigarette smog now caressed by coffee fumes, burnt-out LEDs zapping and humming almost drowning out the graduate student who speaks like a professor, exhaustion almost tangible through the haze of CO2 and asbestos — the five students there scribble furiously. Their notes will be unreadable to them within minutes of leaving the room, and only three will remember being there at all.

At what point does a writing become a poem? What is the precise divide between verse and prose, vocals and song? Lay aside the breaks, the stanzas, the forms. Jumble the words and scatter them; rearrange them like a book. Is this work prose? Verse? Something in-between? Right now it’s prose. But what if the words dance like cities crumbling down, bridges creaking upon a skyline bruising livid with the flush of tomorrow's bloodshed, quietescence of the streets gurgling out, shipping fleets coming in at dawn, and become something else entirely?

That did not make sense, did it? Perhaps that is the boundary, then. Perhaps poetry needs form, needs line breaks. But then what of prose poetry, what of short natural sentences, what of all the things in-between?


I think
that prose
and verse
are waves
we make
the shores
we walk.

And by that I mean that prose and poetry are what we make of them. There is no true boundary, only a mile-wide gradient of greys in all shades of lapis and violet.

Despite this, though—

The Preparation

—what ideas are worthy of becoming poetry? is a question I've heard so often it has worn grooves in the air, be it in conference centers or in online forums.

This is my content. My thoughts constrain and warp your own to deliver unto you my meaning. I choose benevolence, and I give to you the World.

"What things are allowed to be poetry?" is a non-question because there is no non-poetic thing in the world. Everything is a poem in the right detail, in the right mindset, in the right fashion or lighting or time of day or attitude or profession. A single fish is a sonnet to the fisherman who caught it, is an iamb to the butcher who gutted it, a haiku to the salesperson who sold it, an ode to the customer who bought it, and a sestina to the children ages three, four, and five who learned their love or disgust of fish when they tried it. A poem, each and every one, unique and distinct — and a poem again, looking at this fish's journey from the sea to the plate, and a poem again, looking at this fish's journey from egg to spawn to hook. Everything is beautiful in its own right.

What Is Reality, Anyway?

is the world unconstrained; fact and fiction and interpretation and beliefs and rolled into one.
is not perception because facts and beliefs are stripped away when they do not abide by our standards.
is that which refuses to go away when we stop believing in it.

And so, poetry. Not reality, not perception, not anything else. This is something which goes away after one stops believing or perceiving, but creeps into the mind, a stolid and stubborn barnacle upon the hull of your being, waiting for you to hold a Styrofoam cup and remember the words you half-understood so many weeks or months or years ago on foam that felt like nettles or honey that webbed between the fingers like a moth-eaten shirt. Poetry is the boundaries of reality, describing treebark that bites the chainsaw rather than the other way around, of skin caught around tattoo ink. Poetry is not a fiction, and not a truth, but somewhere in-between. Poetry is beyond the world, and that is because the world is made of it. Poetry is the same rock receiving countless impressions of wheels, shoes, bicycle tyres, and roadkill while trapped in the same cemented point where a brokenhearted lover had pushed it after a breakup so many years prior. Or, if that doesn't make sense…

Maybe This Will.

Perhaps poetry is the gunpowder cloud left behind in a 4th of July celebration congregation,
each person or pair or family staring up from that grassy mound there on their own volition
all picking that same streaky cloud of pastel pink in the violent quiet during the intermission
and giving that cloud wholly different interpretations, each unique but tangentially similar:
a bunny, a dragon, a house, a galaxy, a boulder, a laptop, a snake, a weapon of mass destruction
forgotten the moment the booms and crackles start again, to be remembered in joy weeks later
in an algae-creek, in beef-juice streaks, in the curling edge of a bill. This cloud has changed minds
through wonder: through beliefs, all different, to what that cloud might resemble in another life.

That cloud is what poetry is.

Let us hope that I made my meaning clear. Perhaps I did not. If so, look at a cloud, and imagine how you might describe the vastness of it to an ant, or try to describe the vastness of the Pacific Ocean to the largest puddle on the playground. Perhaps, then, you will know what it is to write poetry: it is not to describe the world as it is, but rather to describe the truth that it holds from all manner of perspectives and beliefs. When describing a dragon, the difference between a fable and a Wikipedia entry is is that one describes a titan who eclipses skyscrapers, scimitar teeth slavering pools of magma-hot saliva that gleams in the colour of molten gold, iridescent scales broader than shields and a tremendous heart that when eaten induce the power to converse with songbirds; and the other describes a winged reptile which breathes fire. Which here is superior, if you want to know rather than state the properties of something's existence?

Thus, in poetry: Describe the world not as it is perceived, but how it is, in all forms.

The Execution

Finally, the remains. All too often, these words are uttered by the unknowing poets of the world: I'm just not good at poetry! How am I supposed to get good at this?

Pick up a piece of clay. Are you a sculptor? No. How do you become one?

Here is my advice, to those wilting wildflowers out there. Don't care if your poetry is bad. if it is bad, then it is. There is no point in feeling guilty or ashamed, no more than you can feel guilty over the spacing in the sidewalk. Embrace the bad, or the beauty, or the triumph, or the failure, because your history is your history and now that you have tried you can try again. Right now, you are available to all possible options, and one of those is taking the step of writing poetry and not caring if you do not know how because you are learning, and learning is lifelong. How would you get better at sculpting without working at sculpting? An old adage of photography, back when you had to buy film rolls for every twenty-five photos you took, was as follows: Cameras are cheap. Experience is expensive. Clay is not expensive in small amounts, but in bulk it burns through a wallet faster than fire through kerosene. And this used to be somewhat the same with ink and paper. But here is the thing: like digital photography and memory cards, the written word has become free. The written word is clay invisible, held in the mind, moulded with your thoughts. You are exactly as good at poetry as you have become, because — like how a sculptor's hands know how to sculpt even if their eyes fail and their mind goes — you know poetry because poetry becomes you as you practice.

How does one learn to sculpt? You hold that clay ball, and you make anything. Move your hands about, squish it, contort it. Free-flow stream-of-consciousness make. Tubes, snakes, spiral vines and tubers, potatoes and vines and balls, smooth surfaces imprinted with craters of your identity in fingerprints and skin cells. Make. And after twenty, thirty, however-many-it-takes sculptures melting like candle wax and equally as ugly or beautiful or whatever they might be — the effluence of trying for the first or the thousandth time, or maybe just warming up — something magical happens. Your hands learn. They learn like muscle memory, like a faint memorization of pi after countless repetition. The intuitive knowledge of sculpting is yours through practice.

That is how to practice poetry. Now, one last word of advice: sometimes, you may feel as though you live in a cave, never seen or heard anything before, have never written in your life, and other, more joyous times words may come easily as water from mountain snow under the wide summer sun. Words are pomegranates, arils bloodying your teeth and crunching so sweet — know that autumn harvest cannot last forever. Fear not the winter's fallow days, nor the spring's promising yet inedible buds. Like the seasons, writing comes as tides, ebbing and waxing. And it will return. Fear not the quiet days. Coax your writing along in those dead times, gather seeds of inspiration and ideas when the fields lie barren, and you will find that autumn comes sooner than ever.

A final thing. Everyone has bad poetry, tries to replicate the ambiguity and vague-form of professionals, believes that hindered understanding and fuddling words of big concepts are what constitute the work. And maybe you will do this, and you will know that something is not right. Is this stopping you from writing? I encourage you to write anyway. Make mistakes and work through them, find the boundaries of what is possible. Embrace that you will not get perfection on your first try. Nobody does, and those who do only do because they discarded all of their first drafts where they cannot be remembered and cannot be found. You will make failures, and they will be glorious, and you will make glories, and they will be flops. This is the way of things, as you discover yourself. And over time, you will learn the eddies and whirlpools of this great ocean of work that the world is, and you will swim strong and sublime as a salmon to make a niche of your own in this great sea of work.

Now, enough dawdling. You know how this goes.

Put the pen to paper. The first word is all that it takes.

You can do this.

Somewhere, there is — a static video of an orchestra chamber — empty — but for a songbird’s vocal cords — vibrating — a symphony itself — surround-sound studio — amplifying — his call into the world — beautiful — this old studio — where the rent ran out — and the last to turn out the lights — didn’t check the windows — before the spring came in.

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