It was sitting right there in our garage. Well, to be fair, that ladder’s been there for a decade or better. And it’s not ours.
I was helping my husband with some drywall when I happened to glance up at that ladder hanging on hooks on the wall. And that’s where my latest poem came from.
See, the ladder was borrowed from a friend. And it’s one of those wooden, non-adjustable, cumbersome deals that your grandparents or great-grandparents would have used. Kind of useless in terms of function, but practical for jobs that need something just that tall.
Did I mention the friend passed away recently?
Right there is a poem.
Those little moments and details are part of our lives. Waking up to them and seeing them through a poetic lens isn’t easy. We saw the brilliance of William Carlos Williams using plums as a metaphor for this philandering ways. But do we see those same details in our day-to-day?
Here’s an exercise for you: Right now, look around the room you’re in. What’s there? Don’t overlook the small stuff, either. If it’s a pen or a roll of lip balm, notice it.
Now make a list of those things. Here’s my list:
— A flat stone with Cape May Lighthouse painted on it
— A bottle of hand lotion
— A decorated tin can that holds my pens
— A small vial of dirt from County Donegal
— A stack of papers for my latest work projects
— A paper napkin
— A white button from something long forgotten
None of this seems terribly poetic, does it? But whatever is on your list, live with them a bit. Pay attention to them, and ask yourself why you have it, how you use it, what purpose it serves, what makes it enough for you to keep it, why you can’t part with it.
For example, that stone is from the beach near the lighthouse. It was chosen because it was flat enough to paint on, and serves as a good paperweight. But it was painted before he knew me, when he was married to someone else, when Cape May held different memories for him, and when things might not have been so great.
The deeper you go into each thing on your list, the more the possibilities jump out at you. These moments are just as important and special and, I would argue, more personal and universal than many poetry subjects.
It’s in how you present it, how you make your reader connect to that moment and that object in your own life.
Like a ladder borrowed from a friend.
What item or topic have you tackled in your poetry that may have seemed mundane on the surface?
How did you elevate it?