Monday, December 15, 2014

Unleashing the Poet Within - Five Tips to Spark Poetic Creativity

This Christmas I'm taking a cue from characters in the Nativity Story. Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon each bring a poetic voice to the birth of Christ.

Mary's poem, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) rejoices in God's ability to reverse the fortunes of His servant. She spoke the prayer after six months of bearing the Christ-child.

Zechariah's poem, the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79), blesses God, remembering His promises and looking forward to His redemption. He spoke the prayer after nine-months of waiting for the birth of his prophet-child.

Simeon's prayer, the Nunc Dimittus (Luke 2:29-32), expresses Simeon's relief at God's salvation. He spoke the prayer after decades of waiting for God's promised Messiah. God had told him he would not die until he laid eyes on His Anointed.

I would argue these poems did not spring from the authors' lips spontaneously. Rather, these were carefully crafted reflections on the nature and mission of God. Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon displayed a poetic theology, answering C.S. Lewis's essay question, "Is Theology Poetry?" long before it was raised. Indeed, humans are "poetic animals," as Lewis' stated.

I would further argue our aching and amused world does not need more spontaneous expressions of Christian praise, but more poetic voices. Christians must learn to unleash their inner poet. We are, in fact, wired for poetic expression, as divine image-bearers. God spoke poetically to Job and Isaiah. He spoke poetically through Solomon, David, and Moses. Even Jesus's sermons and Paul's epistles were laced with poetry. We can speak poetically, too.

While I do not assume I can convince someone she is poetic, I will, at least, provide the courtesy of five poetic tips to living a more poetic life.

  1. Start. Get a writing instrument and go. Don't worry about its quality or completion. Some poems aren't worthy of a conclusion. But you'll never improve if you don't begin. 
  2. Set strict limits. Start with a known form, like Haiku, chiaism, or acrostic. Boundaries do not restrict creativity, but focus it. Another way to set limits is to use a timer (e.g. 5 minutes) and write as many words and phrases for a given topic (e.g. snowfall) in the allotted time. You can come back later and fashion the pieces into poetry.
  3. Forget rhyming. The definition of poetry (whatever one you chose) does not include rhyming. Figures of speech, imagery, honesty, and rhythm are more important to good poetry.
  4. Choose topics that interest you. Write about your passions. Write about your experiences. Don't wax poetically about slave trade only because it's a trend. Don't write about scars you don't bear. Your initial inspirations should be personal.
  5. Turn your emotions into an image. Poetry makes abstract matters concrete. Pick a normal emotion like rage and describe it in action. My fists pounds the wall / my eyes flash red. Then play the action out to its end.

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