Joan Kantor Poetry - Poetry



There is much power in simplicity and, in my poetry, I work to capture moments of emotion and awareness directly and succinctly. Though the first draft usually comes quite easily for me, I spend a great deal of time crafting and paring down the language. My work intentionally plays to the senses, especially the visual. To effectively touch the reader, I emphasize color and texture (“The Potter’s Hands” and “They Will Be Watching”), as well as rhythm, sound, alliteration and internal rhyme (“She Was,” “Chance,” “They Will Be Watching,”and “Friday After School"). As I have in “Worlds Removed,” “The Potter’s Hands” and “Friday after School,” I use the actual visual placement of words on the page to emphasize and/or echo movement and positioning in the poem.I find my inspiration in personal experiences (“I Only Saw The Stars,” “She Was,” “The Potter’s Hands”); in stories I’ve been told (“World’s Removed”); in the news (“They Will Be Watching”); in the natural world and especially in the world of art (“Through Brussels To Breughel”). I am first and foremost an observer. I have a passionate love of the visual arts and nature. I have been known to spend hours exploring one painting and then writing about it or using it as a jumping off point for a poem. I find a sense of spirituality in the natural world, and I embrace detail of color and texture as well as metaphor in poems such as “Autumn Marsh,” “Late September” and “River Rodeo.” I experience life very intensely: the joy, the sadness and all of its confusion. What I'm striving to do primarily with my poetry is to use the power of language, in an accessible way, to share this intensity and in that process, make a deep human connection.
I'm including this poem about my mother, wishing it had been created in time to be included in Shadow Sounds. It was written out of my realization that parts of the past had become blurred by the sadness of the present (dealing with my mother's descent int Alzheimers/Dementia).
I Only Saw the Stars
                            for Mom
I’m sorry
I forgot
who you were
Recent memories
had dimmed the past
While Daddy
was excitement
fear and fun
you were safe
While he criticized
you praised
He was the chaos
you stood behind
was the stars
were the sky 

My father has been such an important part, not only of my book, but of my whole creative process, that I really wanted to include photos of him.   The writing of poetry has allowed me to work through my relationship with this most influential person in my life. When I first began writing, I was filled with mostly negative thoughts which gradually morphed into an awareness of a deep love and appreciation for this charismatic and very flawed individual.This same process is helping me “see” other relationships much better.You just never know where the writing is going to take you. May I suggest that you choose a person in your life with whom you’ve had a complicated relationship and just start writing down your thoughts. These thoughts can be in the form of single words, lines or phrases; it doesn’t matter and it doesn’t have to be pretty, just true. Walk away from and come back to these words, adding and/or changing as the mood strikes. It’s sort of like making a collection from which you can later pick and choose, piecing together the parts to create a poem. Don’t labor at this; just let the words flow out of you and trust in what comes forth. The first poem will make you think even more and will perhaps give birth to future poems as you explore the person and the relationship with internal language. In my case, sometimes months or even years have gone between these sorts of poems, but I usually get inspired to delve further into the “poetic relationship” each time I reread the original poem.For me, writing is a very visual experience. I often feel that there’s a paintbrush, not a pen, in my hand. I’ve been told by art teachers that drawing is not about fine motor skills but about seeing, “having a good eye." I feel strongly that this is what good poetry is all about. When I’m out in nature, or anywhere for that matter, I bring my internal camera, especially the zoom lens. Of course, I see the gestalt, but I’m always looking up close, for color, texture, smells… I often end up zooming in more than once on what I’ve already zoomed in on. There are so many layers that we usually miss. I sometimes get a little bit carried away, seeing colors in things that nobody else seems to see. But it works for me and my work, and that’s all that matters. It’s key to trust in your perceptions.  May I suggest that the next time you go for a walk, and it could even be in your own backyard, you bring along a pen and paper and your internal camera and that you consciously look at things differently. If you see something interesting, don’t just look at it head on. Walk around it, look under it, touch it, breathe deeply and ask yourself if there’s more than initially meets the eye. Also, sometimes something that at first appears to be ugly, upon closer perusal is actually intriguing if not even beautiful in its own special way. There’s interest and beauty in the underbelly! It’s about opening yourself up to the possibilities. Also, don’t forget to look up and down, not just straight ahead. Try to imagine how something might appear to a bird or other animal with their different perspectives. SLOW DOWN!! I do most everything at a very fast pace, but when I’m out in nature, I very purposefully try to slow down so I don’t miss anything. Write any thoughts or observations down and save them. It’s fun to develop a poem from even a brief description of something you’ve experienced in nature, which is always ripe for metaphor.  Here's a recent example of my own: 

Seaweed Cycle
                           Watch Hill, Rhode Island
Thin rippling lines
in delicate patterns
of black and bright green slippery strands
echo waves on firm wet sloping sand
strewn with rocks footprints shells
momentarily far from the crash of swells
the fizzling spread of foam
and the leftover bubbles
of low-tide's dissolving lace edge


One of my favorite inspirations for poetry is art. Bring a pad and pen with you the next time you go to a museum, not just an art museum. Take notes on paintings or objects that interest you. Try to imagine what the artists and their subjects might be thinking, or you might want to put your own spin on an interpretation of what you see. Even better, “befriend” a special work of art and become a regular visitor. You will see something different each time you visit. I did this with my poem about Breugel’s "Kermess." I paid weekly visits for over a year until I actually felt that I was able to “crawl into it." This same technique can be used right at home. Find a favorite work of art, piece of furniture, etc. and seek out its nuances and its meaning to you. Just put those thoughts into words on the page.Here's that poem about Bruegel's "Kermess":  
Through Brussels to Bruegel

Each week
a magnet pulls me
to the Museum of Ancient Art
past lacy architecture
guiding me
’round gothic spires
down cobbled paths

and through the doors
right into the painting
of carnival
where I slip
through cracks
on dark glossy paint
seeking out
wicked deeds
lascivious dancing
and ale
and brawling
mingling with men
in trees
and on rooftops
enthralled by the scene
I’m watching
the devil cavorting
near saints
the magnet’s release
For me, there’s been a certain abandon and risk-taking in the creation of poetry. I’ve even had the gall to invent new words when I just couldn’t find the right one. I highly encourage this; there’s something exciting about contributing a new word to the English language. I’m sure that there’s another small child out there who’s also “knobbledy legged”. When you can’t find just the right word, then the one you’ll create probably IS the right one. Once again, trust in it.Don’t worry about the making of the poem; just go with the flow. It can be, but doesn’t have to be, a lofty or wrenching experience. There’s much honing and crafting that’s gone into most poems that you’ve read. But they all began simply with spontaeous words placed onto the page. You can work with them, rearrange, add, subtract or just put them away and save them for another day. But first you have to begin the process by tuning your inner eye and collecting your thoughts.  Now go and experience the joy of creativity!

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