Big Ideas (in the Ordinary)
I’ve noticed that often when we try to write, we get stuck because we think we need to write about “big” subjects. So we sit and chew on our pencil and stare into space and decide our lives just aren’t exciting enough for Art with a capital A. It’s really a shame, because lots of interesting, imaginative writing gets lost this way.
The poem I’ve chosen for this month’s column, “Today,” by Frank O’Hara, is a great antidote to this kind of inhibition. O’Hara was immersed in the New York art scene, and his poems reflect the exciting changes that were happening in the visual arts of the 1950’s. They’re colorful, irreverent, noisy, seemingly casual but secretly well-crafted.
But what I appreciate most about this poem (and others by O’Hara) is that it shows us that anything can be in art, and art can be about anything. Just by writing about it, by putting the ordinary stuff of our lives into a poem it becomes changed and celebrated. It becomes interesting.
Here’s his poem, Today:
Oh! kangaroos, sequins, chocolate sodas!
You really are beautiful! Pearls,
harmonicas, jujubes, aspirins! all
the stuff they’ve always talked about
still makes a poem a surprise!
These things are with us every day
even on beachheads and biers. They
do have meaning. They’re strong as rocks.
If your child wants to write, I encourage you to read this poem together. It’s really silly, and it’s also really smart. It gives them permission to do what they already do so well—use their intuition along with their intelligence—in other words—make stuff up!
In fact, you could try a writing game where you just put a bunch of stuff from your house on a table. Choose 10 ordinary things and then maybe arrange them a little, as if you were going to put them into a painting. Then challenge each other to write a poem that has all the stuff on the table in it.
If it turns out that the stuff on the table ends up telling a story—great! But if it might turn into something completely different, too. Whatever you do, don’t worry too much about making sense–like O’Hara says, it will make the poem a surprise.
If you like, feel free to post your family’s writing here in the comments. I would love to see what you come up with!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amy’s the mother of two children who seem to enjoy poetry, for which she’s extremely grateful. Her first book, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James Books and poems have appeared in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s a former Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mt. Holyoke College, where she looked at the impact of motherhood on the work of women poets. In addition to her life as a poet, Dryansky works for a land trust, teaches in at Hampshire College, leads workshops in the community and writes about what it’s like to navigate the territory of mother/poet/worker at her blog, Pokey Mama. Her second book, Grass Whistle, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in 2013.
[Photo credit: (ccl) Eduardo Sánchez]