Get Inspired Mondays, Writing

Finding Focus — A Poetic Pick-Me-Up


Life can be distracting.

Like Chuck E. Cheese meets social media meets teenage boys sporting pants-that-are-hanging-on-by-a-penguin-walk-and-a-prayer distracting.

Switching gears between home, work, school and family responsibilities sometimes doesn’t seem humanly possible. Our brains aren’t always willing to jump from one project to the next.

That’s where our little breaks come in: ten minutes to stare into space, twenty minutes to pop in on Facebook, thirty minutes to (once again) re-organize our desk, an hour and a half to grab lunch with a friend. These daily escapes shoved in-between the real stuff can be enough to recharge initiative levels.

They can also be a major time-suck on the productive portions of our days.

To avoid spiraling down the not-getting-anything-done abyss, I’ve found a brain-refresher that takes very little time with often better results: The Five Minute Poetry Pick-Me-Up.

These short poetic trysts have been especially helpful to me when writing. Since I’m often leap-frogging from project to project within the same day, it’s sometimes difficult to slam myself onto a new screen and dig in. Even when my focus is on one story, I might hit a wall.

And, folks, slamming into screens and hitting walls hurts.

When that kind of  pain sets in, it’s time for a break. Instead of reaching for the phone or a cup of tea every time, I  grab one of my poetry books, open at random, and take five minutes to clear my head. Not only does this momentarily take my mind off of any problems with my works-in-progress, it almost always helps me fix them when I return. Short, succinct, thoughtful, descriptive writing can do that.

Now, I know some of you are going to say that you don’t like poetry. That you can’t get into it. That it’s all fluffy, narcissistic, psycho-babble that is incomprehensible to your discerning ears.

To that I say — you just haven’t found the right poetry for you…yet.

If you don’t know where to start, poets like Billy Collins or Deborah Garrison write in a way that’s easily accessible to all kinds of readers.

Another option might be picking your way through an anthology to find your style. Good Poems edited by Garrison Keillor, or any of The Best American Poetry editions can give an interesting mix.

Or, if you break into a glistening sweat at the mere thought of leaving your computer and want to find something NOW, there are a ton of websites like Linebreak, Poem of the Day, and The Best American Poetry Blog that publish daily or weekly poems, often with audio versions. 

Whichever medium you choose, here’s the key — Don’t be afraid of poetry. 

Turn the page and take it in. Just like you breathe deep of the biting-cold air on those first wintry days (you know, before you start cursing Old Man Winter with ritualistic dancing and voodoo dolls) — you may be surprised at how good it feels.

Call it a break. Call it a diversion. Better yet, call it inspiring. A poetic pick-me-up may be just enough to lure you from your glazed reverie so that you can focus on the challenges in front of your face.

I only ask that you give it a try.

And then get back to work.


For those who are more poetically inclined, consider being a part of the April 2011 PAD (Poem-A-Day) Challenge. You can get all of the details at Robert Lee Brewer’s Writer’s Digest blog, Poetic Asides.

This post was part of Get Inspired Monday! — a series created to help you dig into your week and find inspiration in unexpected places.

On Tap March 14th: YA writer, Natalie Whipple

Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

39 thoughts on “Finding Focus — A Poetic Pick-Me-Up”

  1. This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve been working to connect with poetry, something that’s always eluded me in the past. I enjoyed Billy Collins so much that I picked up his collection The Trouble with Poetry – an apt title for me, I’d say. I’ve found that I also like Mary Oliver’s poetry. Thanks for the recommendation of Deborah Garrison. I haven’t read her work before, so I’m looking forward to reading some of her poems.


    1. I’m glad this was timely for you Jacquelin. I started out by writing poetry, but now spend much more time on my fiction writing. These little breaks are a way to help me stay connected and keep poeming — something I really do enjoy!


  2. OH MY GOSH!


    I do the same thing. I have a notebook in which I have cut out and pasted my faves since time began.

    But I NEVER thought of using them that way: to get a mini breather.

    I turn to them, at night, when I’m alone: so that I can live in every word there.

    What a great idea.


  3. Great post (as usual), Amanda. Sometimes, you’ll come across a poem that’s just about perfect, every word exactly right, every word packing a wallop, and you think, dang, I really have to work harder at this writing thing.


    1. Thank you, Todd. I know exactly what you’re saying. It’s easy to read the poems with wallop and then decide you are unworthy to attempt continue. But I think there’s room for all of us.


  4. Yes! I’ve been using both Garrison Keillor and the Best American Poetry anthologies and they work quite well as energy boosters and inspiration.


    1. Oh good, Erika! I hope you will run right out, and pick some up. You strike me as the poetic type and not only from your the fluid and depth of your writing…maybe it’s your new thoughtful avatar pose? 😉


  5. it’s weird how poetry is what got me writing in the first place and i rarely look at it now despite the several poetry books scattered around the house. i will have to give this a try. i constantly smacking into walls.


    1. I know that I go through spurts. I backed away from poetry reading/writing a bit when I first started writing more fiction (maybe thinking I couldn’t compartmentalize that way), but I think they really enhance each other.

      Yes, go try! Thanks for reading, Tiffany~


  6. Sadly, I’m one of those people who don’t always get poetry. I want to, because I think the bare emotions, the symbolism, and the flow can be really helpful in writing fiction. But no one has ever suggested poets or collections for someone like me. So thank you! I look forward to checking some of these out.

    Becca @ The Bookshelf Muse


    1. Hi Becca! You’ll have to let me know if any of these suggestions work for you. None of them are too out there (though in the Best American there is a more ecletic mix).

      Thank you for visiting and commenting.


  7. The first stuff I ever wrote (in high school) was angst-ridden poetry. I didn’t know I wanted to write then. But I never wrote poetry after that. Probably because I never studied it either. Still, I could’ve tried this last night when I went brain-numb staring at a screen trying to figure out what order my 2,000 words were supposed to go in. And they were due this morning! Got em done at least. Next time I’ll poetry it up.


  8. Brilliant suggestion, Amanda! I have no excuse not to do this, since I’m never far from a poetry book here at home – they are almost literally everywhere!


  9. A friend just told me about PAD the other day at my workshop. Maybe it’s a sign I should start? And love me some Billy Collins.


  10. I find Kerouac’s poetry strangely inspiring. Something about the flow of it–how he focused so much on the sound of every line, gets me going.


  11. Very nice. I’m glad you made this suggestion. I’m having the sort of week where many head-clearing poetry breaks will be in order. I’ll start with Edna St. Vincent Millay and see how far that gets me.

    Hope your projects are going well!

    (“Pants-that-are-hanging-on-by-a-penguin-walk-and-a-prayer.” Ha! Fantastic.)

    P.S. I know I owe you an e-mail!!! 🙂


    1. Things are going well — thanks, Maura. I’m going to be kind of a ghost in the blogosphere for the next few weeks so I can really focus.

      I think I may actually owe you. No worries!


  12. Amanda. You’re great. You always mention things that writers always do that we don’t even realize we do. I do that all the time, and yes they are great pick me ups. Leave it to you to coin the phrase! 🙂


  13. I love poetry SO much, you have no idea. Billy Collins is fabulous – and let’s not forget A.R. Ammons, what a genius. And a genuinely wonderful man. Even though he was retired, he would come into classes and teach for a day at my college – what a privilege.

    You’ve inspired me to crack a poetry book, which I haven’t done in ages. God bless you.


    1. Wow, Tarja! How wonderful for you to have that experience.

      Let me know if you do crack a poetry book, and which one you start with. I’m always curious to know what people are reading.


  14. Great advice, Amanda. I have some favorite poems that I come back to over and over again because they do give me a sense of comfort, and wonderment, and inspiration. Next time I’m frustrated with my WIP, I’m so doing this!



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s