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Book Review: Unleash the Poem Within – How Reading and Writing Poetry Can Liberate Your Creative Spirit by Wendy Nyemaster

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From the time I read the opening lines of Unleash the Poem Within, I knew that I was not dealing with a typical poetry book. The irreverent subtitle to the Introduction “Why Write Poetry? I’ve Got Dishes and Laundry to Do!” tells us some important facts about this book. Nyemaster is a real woman who understands the challenges of juggling a busy life, she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and despite her dedication to poetry, is able to take it lightly and inject a dose of irreverent humour into her writing.

“First things first: If you are thinking of making your fortune or getting on the Oprah Winfrey Show, writing poetry is not the way to do it. And even if you think poetry can get you there, this book won’t. If you think this is your ticket to fame or notoriety of any kind, your time is better spent on those dishes and laundry.”

And so I was launched into a unique book that focuses on the power of poetry in helping women to come to know themselves better through the self-examination that occurs while writing.

Readers should come prepared to set aside the lingering remnants of forced poetry assignments in high school, and the angst-filled free verse poems composed to express those terribly hormonal years. While those works may provide valuable reflections into the person you once were, and are to be cherished as such, it's time to move beyond these limited conceptions of poetry. Nyemaster focuses on 10 distinct forms or types of poetry. Since her focus is self-discovery, she never encourages bondage to rigid forms but rather encourages flexibility and experimentation.

Each chapter is dedicated to a poetic style: sonnet, sestina, list, ghazal, haiku, villanelle, letter, prayer, epiphany and ode. Some forms are familiar favourites, such as the haiku; others will drive you to pick up the book just to find out what, exactly a ghazal is. The chapters are filled to overflowing with a wealth of information and insight. Each begins with an introduction to the type of poem and insights from Nyemaster’s life as she shares how the specific form speaks to her, and how it has impacted her.

Before we are ever introduced to the nitty gritty of meter, rhyme schemes and stanzas we experience the poetic form by reading the work of real women, members of the “Poet Posse,” a group of 14 members (including the author) of all ages, family situations and walks of life. This is the poetry of real women, not necessarily earth-shaking, but meaningful to each writer. One of my favourites, for example, is titled “Ode to Diet Coke” – this is real poetry!

After making the acquaintance of the types of poems, the reader is then introduced to the technical details, the why’s and how’s that make the specific form of poetry unique and identifiable; how to write and execute that particular type of poem. Tips and suggestions on content, how to find subject matter are followed with a brief list of examples from published female poets that will further familiarize budding poets with the form. Each chapter also includes a suggested soundtrack from one of the Posse members that evokes feelings common to the type of poetry being explored.

Each chapter closes with a “Poetic Pause,” with thoughts on how to enjoy and integrate poetry with daily life. These sections include insight into writing poetry while multi-tasking, how to share your work with others and how to read (and possibly understand) poetry written by others.

Unleash the Poem Within provides readers with an exploration into the world of poetry unlike any other. The combination of poetic examples, insight into the lives of the poets, personal reflection and memoir-like moments from the author, tips on how to get started with new forms you’d like to try and general writings surrounding the topic of poetry make this the ideal work for women seeking to awaken their inner poets.

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About Jennifer Bogart

  • bliffle

    Vegan poem

    I heard a modern poem by an American woman on the radio today, and I enjoyed it for several reasons, some of which are: the subject and sentiments and the point are evocative and close to my own interests (and possibly other peoples interests, too!). Also, it’s well-stated and short.

    http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2014/04/03

    [quote]
    Vegan
    by Sue Ellen Thompson

    My daughter hauls her sacks of beans
    and vegetables in from the car and begins to chop.
    My father, who has had enough caffeine,
    makes himself a manhattan-on-the-rocks.

    It’s Sunday, his night for sausage and eggs,
    hers for stir-fried lentils, rice, and kale.
    Watching her cook eases his fatigue
    and loneliness. Later, she’ll trim his toenails.

    He no longer has an appetite
    for anything beyond this evening ritual.
    But he’ll fry himself an egg tonight
    and eat dinner with his granddaughter. For a widower,

    there is no greater comfort in the world
    than his girls and his girls’ girls.

    “Vegan” by Sue Ellen Thompson from The Golden Hour. © Autumn House Press, 2006.

    Of course, the most common comment about poetry is probably: “put down that book; you’ll never get anywhere reading poetry!” usually said by a nervous parent to a child with vague job prospects, envisioning the 40 year old poetry editor of a magazine with 12 subscribers still living at home on an old sofa in the attic..

    But in order to say that the worried parent must first explain why poet Don Draper is the most successful man portrayed on American TV.