Poetry surrounds our lives. You may not think this is true, and certainly we don’t have a culture of poetry the way many other countries do, but still we are exposed to poetry in all sorts of wonderful ways. Of course, we hear them in song lyrics, but we also find poems

  • At inaugurations – Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s, Maya Angelou at Bill Clinton’s, and Elizabeth Alexander at Barack Obama’s.

  • In movies – Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” in In Her Shoes, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s "First Fig" in A River Runs through It, and William Blake’s The Tyger” in The End of the Affair, Blade Runner, and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys.

  • At weddings – “She Walks in Beauty” by Lord Byron, “To Be One With Each Other” by George Eliot, or “Wedding Toast,” by Richard Wilbur.

  • At funerals – “Asleep” by Emily Dickinson, “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, and “Remember” by Christina Georgina Rossetti

The Bible and other holy books are filled with poetry; children’s books are often in rhymes; and many of us hung artwork or posters up in our college dorms that had poems on them.

Poems have been turned into plays (Cats, which was based on T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats) or movies (Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf from the book-length poem of the same name).

And then there is my favorite – poems in subways. In 1992, the Poetry Foundation and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority launched Poetry in Motion®, which has placed poetry in the transit systems in dozens of cities in the U.S. Their mission was to “create a national readership for both emerging and established poets.” Here’s one they posted from Walt Whitman’s poem “To You”:

STRANGER! If you, passing, meet me, and desire
to speak to me, why should you not speak to me?

And why should I not speak to you?

We really do seem to enjoy them and they enrich our lives. They take us into a moment, a truth, an understanding.

Our own poetry should do the same. Here’s a little exercise to help you capture a moment – the one right now, while you are staring at your computer screen, reading, and sipping a cup of coffee.

  • Spend two minutes looking at your cup, really looking at it and pretending it is not what you know it is.

  • Look at the oval opening.

  • Look at the way the handle is attached to it; though try to look at it not as a handle, but part of the whole of the object in front of you.

  • Look at the design on the object – don’t name the design, just notice it, notice the colors, the curves, the letters as lines.

  • Now spend a minute thinking about all the things you could fill it with – not just liquid or food. Let your imagination go wherever it wants to.

  • Pull out some paper or open a new document on your computer and

--Describe the object

--Write about how it makes you feel

--Go back again to describing it, not as a cup, but as an object

--Note how it fits into its environment

--Note if it holds a secret that you can intuit

--Write about how that makes you feel

--Explain why

You just wrote a poem about a coffee cup -- but it’s about so much more than a coffee cup. Probably, it’s a lot about you.

For a list of podcasts where you can listen to poetry being read aloud, and exercises about poetry and writing, please visit  my blog.