Write what you know.
I have taken this maxim to heart when writing and publishing poetry. But, when people ask me what kind of poetry I write, I have to stop and think.
Regular, everyday poetry?
A lot of my poems are about childhood memories that pop into my head while walking the dog.
I guess I would call it confessional. Or narrative free verse.
I write about how my father used to balance an almost empty glass ketchup bottle (before plastic squeeze bottles) onto a new ketchup bottle to salvage the last slug of ketchup from the old bottle.
I write about how my mother prayed with me toward the end of a basketball season in the hopes that I would just score a basket.
I write about my high school geometry class, how my parents met, and the challenges of installing a new faucet in my kitchen sink.
The past 2 years, I have led a poetry workshop with the poets Tara Lynne Groth and Bartholomew Barker, at the Holly Springs (NC) Cultural Center. Tara Lynne and Bart are experts at using prompts such as old post cards with actual messages written on the back, and 12-sided (or, if you prefer, dodecahedra) dice to prompt the audience to write about a particular month. Their prompts always get my poetic juices flowing.
For me, I have the audience think back on significant (or less significant, but memorable) moments in their lives. I will share the details of this in a future post, but suffice it to say, there is a wealth of material in our personal histories. This is where I often go for my poems and the good news is that this store of ideas is growing every day.
So, if you find yourself racking your brain for poetic subject matter, you may be, as the mythologist Joseph Campbell said, standing on a whale fishing for minnows.
Just write what you know.