Skylight 47 Poetry Spring Issue
March 24, 2018
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Finding Poetry

I am asked this question many times – “How do you write poetry and where do your ideas come from?” I find this is an extremely difficult question to answer as I am inspired by many things. It may be a sound, a colour or a piece of music, although most frequently it comes from truly observing my surroundings instead of just looking. I believe that once you step out of the box you can peer down and see inside it.

I wrote a short essay titled “Finding Poetry” that was published in the Irish Times on February 15th of this year. It touches on the questions mentioned above and gives an insight into my poetry. I hope it helps readers embrace the true nature of poetry and its value. You can read the the essay HERE or read the longer version below.


Finding Poetry



Only on the cusp of sleep, when the world has no influence, and my mind has time to think alone on the true nature of reality, does poetry’s untarnished truth appear. As such, I strive to bring the unimaginable into my poetry and into the ordinary lives of the reader.

A common stroll along an artificial waterway in one of my poems is transformed into a carnival de la salsa where ducklings wear sequins and dance the salsa. In another poem, a Parisian scene is filled with can-can dancers performing on a canal bank, swinging feathers back and forth alongside marsh plants in a chorus line, wearing “petticoats of weeds and black stockings”. In another poem, a pair of ordinary tights hanging on a wash line become a pair of youthful legs suspended in mid-air purely by suggestion –

now those silk legs on the line stretch for miles and miles just to find their bodies.”


Through my poems, I turn my eyes inward to find words to articulate the human condition. Themes are not my main focus, but crafting pure language to evoke an emotional surge in the reader, to recreate the experience of standing in front of a great work of art and somehow feeling physically a part of the painting. The composition comes to life and with every look, one sees more and more.


This is what I try to achieve when writing poetry. When writing my first collection “Of Silken Waters” I allowed the beauty of language to lead me to the narrative. I never empowered subject or form. I believe poems should be organic, and that is why nature plays a big role in my work. Poems are harmoniously structured by emotional freedom and should never be prompted by another individual. They should flow naturally like a river, unspoilt and unique like a fractal. It is only when our mind, body and soul are in perfect alignment, can poetry safely flourish. Using nature as metaphor grants my poems the freedom to be less self-explanatory and more creative and mystical. A poem too evident from the outset gives the reader no need to return. Metaphors attach an extra layer of fascination for the reader. In my poem “Butterflies” the butterflies represent life taking flight from a terminally ill patient –


I see life ascend from their heads in a flightless, winged narrative, a sexless luminescence of light.”


I know that people differ in their approach but I truly believe fear is the greatest obstacle holding a many talented poets back. Fear of what you may ask? It is the fear of being misunderstood. The fear that people will not understand your poems may lead you to write for your audience rather than for yourself. Working in this manner will only create predictable and static poetry. We seem to be obsessed in getting our message across as if this was a poet’s only pursuit.


Poets are not prophets or journalists but artists of a visual language. Words are their medium, but I fear trend has replaced quality and talent. I may be accused of being self-absorbed but this is further from the truth; your own inner voice is the only voice you can truly trust. I have touched upon many topics in “Of Silken Waters’’ such as death, love, loss, hope, renewal, grief at its most crucial stage, although I have never felt the desire to write about religion or politics. I leave all that to the newspapers and social media. I only ever wrote one poem of a political nature, addressing the moon and her role in the Syrian crises, pushing my own political opinion aside. Poetry should be a lyrical gauze against the angst everyday life generates. Associating beauty to certain subjects can be difficult to achieve. War for example, where can you find beauty in that?

You would need to be insane to think otherwise, but the Austrian poet George Trakl wrote “Grodek”, a poem that draws upon his experiences serving on the Eastern Front. The first six lines describe the close of day of battle. Trakl foregrounds the range of mechanical and human sounds echoing the forest, including the haunting cries from men with “broken mouths”. This a dark poem throughout, being reminded of Trakl’s strong belief that the progression of war would inevitably result in the demise of human kind and society. This is wonderfully expressed in his assertion that “all roads lead to black decay”, despite the destruction. Nature and humans are able to seek a momentary sense of harmony as when night enfolds the dying soldiers and the reeds offer soothing “flutes of autumn” to commemorate their passing. Trakl was able to translate an event during WWI at Grodek in Galicia into something of beauty yet still managing to capture the horror that he witnessed, offering the reader a great sense of duality.


I don’t think I will ever refer to myself as a poet, the soul is too vast to concur. It is forever expanding like the universe. Poetry manages to compress more meaning, more depth of feeling, and more sheer natural beauty into a collection of fewer words than any other form of literature. This is why poetry sits on the shoulders of Apollo.


Denise Ryan