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Poetry and the End of the World


Poetry and the End of the World

If you knew the world were to end tomorrow I don’t know how important any of us would find those unfinished and ‘as soon as I’ projects. That is  unless all muse-fused, snarky, poet/songwriters were mandated to stay behind and explain, in inspired verse, what happened – besides I like the idea of second chances, and just think of all the poems and songs that would come from the residue of such an event. God has a universe-sized sense of humor – how else can you explain we humans and our world-wrecking mechanizations.

It’s said God made every woman and man

Some believe that it wasn’t a good thing

Though flawed I think we are more than worthy

Is the recall for flawed manufacturing?

I know there is poetry and songwriting in Heaven, the rub is only good poetry and songwriting is allowed. (I guess I better get to improvin’ my writing efforts) Getting better at our craft is what I’ll write about in this article. Now, nothing I ever write is written in stone, but is an exploration of ideas that I believe are worth consideration. I am about all of us bettering our poetry skills. You can take my rambling in any way you find useful.

kens phone pics 142

The World Continues

I sit down after a day of rest from writing, I note that I am still here. The world did not end and the election process is about to bore us into oblivion. And it seems most everyone I know is still here – and some are not – sadly. There were no abandoned and wrecked cars on the road, and the sun came up as it has always done. The only quaking I felt was mine own, stemming from the uncomfortable interaction between our President and Netanyahu, our country’s predilection for joining in on every fist fight on the planet, how every bill in my wallet is worth less every day, whether, soon, I’ll have to decide between a ten dollar gallon of gas or paying my rent, and my concern for all those other nuclear reactors built on fault-lines, if the ultra-rich will just take all the money, if any banker will go to jail or even be arrested, or if I have the strength to weather it all. So, our responsibilities are still here, with the plethora of problems and worries we all face as well. Yep, all the dramatic materials that make up the natural resources for mining poetic gold.

We didn’t believe but we secretly hoped

That the world would change for us

With our now overdue bills and dire concerns

We were all distracted by the media fuss

Let’s have a look at using some of that poetic gold in a way that transforms it into an even finer thing.

fly in oinyment

The World and the Mundane

I have written about this before, and I think it worth a further examination. When you sit down at your computer, or writing pad, how do the poetic thoughts come to you? Have you seen something of beauty, or ruin that makes your brain percolate like a coffee pot? (a reference perhaps lost in the under forty crowd.) Has a beautiful someone walked across your hormone infused vision, instigating an obsession? Has an evil, cheating, despicable, lying, ogre broken your heart and thwarted your fairy tale expectations? Have you decided that you are the only one who sees the world’s problems clearly and are compelled to write down your lofty thoughts and inspired insights in verse to share with we less enlightened?

Before you decide that I am rude, insensitive, arrogant, or full of s**t and stop reading – it would be better, for the purpose of this article, to acknowledge the glaring truth. If we are serious poets we have all sat down and thought about and/or written in one of these ways. It is the grist of a poet’s personality, the process every poet goes through. It is not a criticism, we all can cite excellent pieces based firmly in each of the areas that I mentioned. Are those poets more or less than us? We even write a few good ones ourselves. But here is the thing, the rub, have you noticed that Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s love poetry (Sonnets from the Portuguese) is just a bit better than our own work? Or that the dark musings of Edgar Allen Poe’s work is darker than ours? Kerouac, Ginsburg, Ferlinghetti, all take existential reveling and observational poetry to a different place than we seem to be able to access. The mastery of Keats, Wilde, Mary Oliver, and Thomas, Bronte, Tennyson, Kipling, Cummings, both inspire and leave us humbled.

So what do we do? We write, and write, and keep writing!

…but here be the thing. We have to realize that our early pre-writing musing, nudged by the muse, may not be the thing that goes down on paper, or on your computer screen. In fact most lofty and worthy thoughts once filtered through our TV and computer addled mind will most probably come out mundane and banal.

poetry in chaos

The World Is Too Loud

You the reader may be thinking, “Now he’s telling me to become a freakin’ Luddite! Maybe he’ll say I have to move to the some Palin loving wilderness so I can write authentically about global warming – try to turn me into a Walden Pond loving Thoreau, writing about water skippers dragon flies, uncomfortable sweating, and my-blood hungry mosquitoes – eating leaves, dirt laden mushrooms, and stuff – when I really want to write about how that no good %$#@# broke my heart, how ‘The Man’ is out there pulling us down, or about those fools who cut other people off on the freeway. I’ m hungry – maybe I’ll go make a sandwich and read this article later.”

So what’s a poet to do? First tell your mind to behave itself – at least until our conversation is over. However, a sandwich does sound good. (Pause – imagine in your mind a muzak-ed Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven’.)

I’m back. I had a nice roast beef and swiss on a kaiser – mayo and a little dab of horse radish.

Okay …now…

What makes great poets is the manner in which words are used. Instead of looking at the words as a casual conversation between you and your mind – have your mind look for another way, a deeper way to say what you saw – what you experienced, and not the mundane first explanation that your mind wants to give you. Our minds are lazy and unwieldy. The mind hates looking at things anew. It is designed for our survival and memorizes repeated events and environs, it memorizes what we see, hear, and feel and stores it for use in determining ‘Similars’ as a way to keep us safe from harm.

Ever notice that when you look in your journal the same words show up when your writing about your new Love – as when you wrote about your old Love (when you were briefly happy) –’ tis your mind reviewing the words attached to the feeling of new love. Your frustrations about that man or woman’ are your thoughts related to every time you have been thwarted, or frustrated, mixed in with things you have read, heard, or seen to validate those same thoughts – Does that mean you’re wrong? No, it means when you write you write through that mundane filter. I had written that I was moved by the beauty of Sadona – every time I sit down to write all that I see in my mind is every other breathtaking mountain and heart stopping vista I have seen in my life, nothing new, and nothing approaching the feelings I had at the time. I wrote one poem, from that trip, about a sad and odd little living ghost town we had passed through on the way, because I was affected, and new and fresh words were deep in me about that experience. Words deeper in me, for seeing something new, than the mundane observations my mind quickly offered.

Ken Lehnig(c)2016 all rights reserved


The World Anew

Yes, the rose is red and it has thorns, but what else does it convey – what words come to that higher/deeper mind. Does the rose look as if it were colored by blood – do you sense a connection between the rose and your heart? Does the blood red rose remind you of the loss of a loved one? Do the thorns remind you of the pain and uncertainty of relationships? Can you see that there is more to be written than:

You left me with a broken heart

as if you think I wasn’t worth a thing

I sat up all night and cried and cried

I can’t believe the sadness you bring

Really? I know your friends think it’s brilliant – it’s not. Look deeper at what you feel, find something new in the experience, and then elevate the language.


thwarted expectations

and now a broken heart

misused and discarded

did I give permission

are my tears penance

for believing

for hoping

blind and gullible

a love starved

weeping clown

Okay – give me a break I’m a dude. We guys have to dig a little deeper. But I think it makes the point. Don’t settle on the first idea that comes in your head. That first effort is mind-conversation and suited to a journal entry – not a poem. Use the experience, dig down, and wait for the words – they will come. Let’s try again.

thwarted expectations

revealing a broken heart

an act in my life’s circus

painted tears and a frown

where I gave permission

I spin with believing

I flip with love’s hope

I fall with gullibility

a loved starved clown

playing the same scene

over and over again

Better? I used imagery that may be peripheral to the main thought. For me the Circus is imagery I associate with busy mysterious coming and goings – perhaps the way I hold ‘love’ – my lovely wife of 38 years has now made that abstract – but is a solid image for me.

I have often written about finding you poetic ‘voice’, this is how that comes about. When you flex the muscle of your mind, by dismissing what the mind flaccidly first offers, and look for another unique way to write, you go beyond a conversation and create a non-verbal, a non-conversational expression. To but it more simply – a good poem is not a conversation with your mind it is a tangible and unique expression of a new or profound experience. That experience being from memory/past looked at anew, an event/present looked at uniquely, or speculation/ future/ abstract in a unique exploration.

The craft of poetry is just this – say it in a better way until you, as the poet, are satisfied it’s the best you can do.

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A Slightly Skewed Class In Poetry Writing

cheshire cat


On Writing Poetry

by Ken Lehnig

This article, by the vagabond rambling poet, will take us on a journey, one in which we will examine the art of writing poetry in a different, abstracted, and assuredly skewed manner. (That may wander back into the normal and mundane.) In fact that is the only way the writer (me) can do anything. In and then out best describes the way my brain works. I can’t promise that anything I write will be found in a textbook, because it has been many decades since I have opened a textbook, and I didn’t retain anything then – so I doubt there is little in my memory to retrieve. What I will write I hold as true, based on my journey, but if I have put some established truism, on writing poetry, to memory (and write it here), it is totally by accident, and I apologize in advance – and bow to those remarkably intelligent others. (Readers and Teachers)

Yep, Dear readers, the vagabond poet is going to write a how-to on writing poetry. It won’t be a class for Dummies, because I know that not a single one of my readers are dummies. Let us call it On Writing Poetry 23

Read the directions and directly you will be directed in the right direction.’

Doorknob – Lewis Carrol

Class begins:

‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,
‘To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing wax —
Of cabbages — and kings —
And why the sea is boiling hot —
And whether pigs have wings.’

Lewis Carrol

Structure or form:

First, go here to be totally confused, but enlightened. http://www.shadowpoetry.com/resources/wip/types.html

Here is the thing, and you may not like it, you have to study and work with poetic form and structure to be a good poet. It does not mean that you have to adopt any one form as your own, but it may well happen.

We will start with some tuff love. If you take or have taken a formal writing poetry class – you will get this next point made on the C or D on your writing assignment. (Yikes! I have already wandered back into the Normal.)

Writing rambling love, or hate verbiage, is not poetry; it is rambling love, or hate, verbiage and probably should stay in your journal.

(Please, go read ‘Elizabeth Barrette Browning’, Lord Byron, or Emily Dickinson)

Writing bouncy, simplistic rhyming, unintelligible, self-indulgent, in two or three word bursts, may well speak more to your spoken word performance than the poem itself.

(Please read the beat, hippy, street, and jazz poets – Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, Richard Brautigan. Allen Watt, Bob Kaufman Drew, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Rodgers, and note all the forms and structures.)

If you have just started writing what you call poetic ART, it’s not. It is certainly artistic expression and you should be commended for the doing of it. I am for any type of artistic expression, including: Journal writing, for the courage to self-examine emotions; Spoken word writing, for the courage it takes to perform it. But if you are to be an Accomplished Poet then it takes a bit of work, and doing the work will have you write even better. (Do take the time to read the work of other poets, you will be surprised at how relevant poetry is throughout human history, and it will affect your work.)

I know a young man with a real talent, his bent was spoken word, because he was exposed to it, and was moved. In my opinion his work was far superior to the works I have heard, but when he wrote it down, it was difficult to read. I attempted to show him some simple structures. I broke his poem down into stanzas and cut out his emphasized words into single word lines. He still resisted and claimed I was wrecking his ART. Art is not accidental it is intentional. I soothed his ruffled feathers and told him his spoken word was performance art, his effort in that medium was clearly there, not what I read. Form does not wreck your ART, it tells the reader how you want the piece read. Stanzas group thoughts and allow readers to rest and ponder before the next stanza. Art should be a  consistent expression, learn your mediums, then do the best you can to create within the medium. You will discover what works best for you. (To spoken word artists: good form and structure allows for your work to be printed correctly and read by a wider audience.) In the man’s journey he discovered himself as a Poet, who brilliantly writes and speaks poetry. He came to compare poetic form to sheet music, allowing the reader to read it just as it is spoken – an apt comparison.

Love the language:

Read the dictionary. Looking up words is not truly effective, because you don’t know what you don’t know. In my long years on the planet I have noted that common usage words are boring, unless it is parodied. So Dude, that begs a bitchen question: When you write, are you looking for agreement, or are you looking to enlighten the reader? If you just want agreement, or understanding, for your particular feeling, or emotion, text your friends, or write a journal. Trust me here, I wrote journals as a young man, a valuable and necessary start, but now the content seems shallow and trite. Now I write down random thoughts, or ideas, as they come, for poems, stories, and songs. It also is a lot easier on the muse. 😉 Take the time to just peruse the dictionary and write down words that get your attention. Stick them up on your wall or write them on postits, and stick them on your computer.

The work of a poet is to examine his or her own emotions, and thought, and write in such a way as to elevate the reader into I higher understanding, or different point of view. Everything you feel has been written about a million times over human history, and words have been invented along the way that will say in a few words what you may have rambled on for in twenty pages of poetic scribblings. Find the words, to say it better and with economy.

An economic and meaning packed stanza of mine, on gold miners, as an example:

troll’s kin
world tossed
digging gritty earth

Play with words:

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Lewis Carroll

I love words and what words you choose should be extra-ordinary. When choosing words look for sounds and syllabic bouncing, as well as the best meaning, to improve your poem. I found the word ‘jongleur’, a French minstrel, the sound of the word intrigued me. ‘Sozzel’ was another word that intrigued me.  I wrote ‘Sozzel The Jongluer’ last year. The  poem and variations became the genisis for two books of poetry and short stories.

I picked proper strings
and let the rim shot fire
against the cracked plaster’s
calloused ear
so many loud drunken tales and stories told
some haunt,
lingering still,
in smoky shadows

Bereft of kindness
this shelter offers little
but a tune and spirit
down some sad memory
and whatever webs I deem to spin and ply
really only lies about other uneasy worlds
so sozzel the jongleur

The old sot smiles
and his filthy cohort dance
a jiggle of old bones
and graceless promenades
rough hewed, true to the gravel tones I entrain
no eminence grise
no gift
could I yet endue

But through parlance
it behooves me to find comfort
where my tongue’s
lilt has gained some  merit
My kin,
the rag tag and bobtail
fuddle and frolic
let go this day’s nettle and lift your saddened heart
and sozzel the jongleur

Carroll’s famous piece ‘Jabberwocky’ makes the point well. Here he uses nonsense words, the meanings of which the reader has no idea. But the mind ‘Matrixes’, it looks for meaning, just as faces seem to appear in tiles, wall texture, and random print patterns. Having an awareness of this human trait gives the poet a tool, for the reader to find a broader personal meaning to a poem.

Here is excerpt of apoetic exercise I wrote:

Priddle and passel perning on a peer
Saddle up a seaner , brigged and get
Tattle in a tangle, teater and tear
Better a bounder than a booring bet

I dinked this all lost in faddled rhyme
Cast asea only the moon embrates me now
Dark writ in candled awe, besown in time
You and life a pleasant versuasive vow

Ya’all determine whether I succeeded.

Certainly more could be written, the class could go on, and we would all fall into irreversible boredom. I am capable of going on about not much, in a confusing way, for a very long time! So let’s wind it down and just break it down to the rambling vagabonds poetic writing essentials.

A poetic works check list:

1. Read other poets

2. Expand your vocabulary

3. Look at structure and form

4. Work with word sounds

5. Say it in a fresh new way.

6. Look from a new perspective

7. Condense your thoughts

8. Write economically.

9. Seek lucidity

10. Feel the cadence

11. Artistically transform your emotions

12. Elevate your language usage

13. Twist meaning

14. Enlarge meaning

15. Minimalize while expanding


Enjoy yourself , even when you are in the darkest moods. Mood , good or bad, is the grist of what it is to be a poet.

You have been given a gift – you are a Poet.

See, how easy that was.

cheshire cat

’We’re all mad here.’

Cheshire Cat  – Lewis Caroll

Content and Context:

This point will be the last for this article, and I think it’s a good one. When you write, read what you have written, and see if it is as you intended. If it has, due to the muse’s contribution, expanded, is it still within the context you intended? From this position begin to edit and improve. I will put a piece down for a day or two and come back to it, not as an editor, but as a reader. When I am satisfied that it is as I intended, then I will look at editing and improving the piece.

The test on this material will be announced.

On every artistic endeavor I have undertaken I started out pretty crude, with work and attention to the craft, I have improved. Every artist is on a journey. I trust that wherever you are in your journey, you will take what I have offered in the supportive spirit I intended.

Keep writing!


First appeared in http://lit.org ‘Majestic’     The Ramblings Of A Vagabond Poet

ken lehnig(c)2011

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Spoken Word

Spoken Word from Ken Lehnig

As a poet have spent my adult life writing mostly inadequate poetry. As I have entered my later years something happened, whether I have made a truer connection to the language, a deeper understanding of the things of life, or I have tapped a channel to some astral library, I don’t know and mostly don’t care. That I can write poetry with some satisfaction at the outcome is enough for me. Whether the work is worthy is up to the reader and listener.

I have always written poetry and would only share those pieces that I deemed worthy. Spoken word is a new concept for me and I don’t often write in the common rhymey and clever word twisty style so often heard in spoken word jams – in no way am I being derisive , in fact, I enjoy spoken word events very much indeed, especially when I learn that most of the participants have no formal understanding of poetry as a literary and art form. I am heartened and often astonished at how poetry is part of our human makeup – at least that is the case I will put froward. Here I offer what I write and it holds up as is does, rise or fall, with no pretense.




The Shadow


All Aboard



My Mind Is A Carnival



all poems by ken lehnig(c) 200- 2012