Touch: The Journal of Healing


Poet in Residence Essay Series


Copyright © 2012

Touch: The Journal of Healing

All rights reserved.


Mean what you say, don't just play.

Seven years ago I wrote a poem. I was trying to figure out how to use personification in my writing. I threw a few ideas around, hoping one of them would stick to my blank paper and inspire me. I couldn't think of anything I truly wanted to say about anything in particular, but knew I needed practice to improve my poetry, so I jotted down a few words I found interesting: opportunity, frown, shelter. To that list I added a few more words and made these unlikely images speak and feel emotions: a spider, a lamp, a dark corner. I worked on the poem for two months and when it was finished, I loved what I had wrought. No, seriously. Even now I love it — absurdly. Pridefully.

Full of hope, I sent it out to be published. It was quickly rejected. I sent it out again—rejected. I sent it out five more times before stuffing it into a virtual closet (and scratching my head in confusion over its ignominious failure). It's never been published. Why? Because playing around with words and technical tricks is not enough. Personally and philosophically, the poem meant nothing to me. As an artist, I had fun mucking around in vocabulary and sonics and imagery, but the poem lacked an emotional core. I believe that readers sense that. Editors certainly do.

Six years ago I wrote another poem in which I again focused on personification. I was still trying to learn all that I could about that particular technique because I had read so many poems that used it to great effect. In this poem, I wrote about flowers, specifically the first crocus buds that push their way out of the frozen ground in early spring. I wrote it in February, as I sat in my office, wishing desperately for warm weather as I stared out of my window at the bare trees. I don't remember if it was my emotional frustration at the cold or something I read that day that affected me or perhaps even a dream, but the poem nearly wrote itself. It is infused with a sense of defiance and joy in the face of opposition that resonates with readers. I submitted it a year later to's Spring Poems Anthology, and it was accepted immediately. It has propagated across the internet, and to this day it remains my most widely read poem. It is not my favorite poem. I am not particularly proud of it, and I find it strange that so many people like it so much.

Why did my earlier attempt at personification fall so flat? Why did this later poem become so well-loved by so many? I believe it is the sense of emotional intent that is the difference. True, both poems were exercises in learning. But the difference between them is clear to me now: the first poem was a meaningless word game. The second was an emotional shake of the fist at the world. Intent is critical. Intent is what makes a poem more than itself, more than a collection of words thrown together on a piece of paper. Without intent, you might as well pluck words out of a bag and throw them at the wall. Sometimes you will get the spark of an idea, but more often all you will get is nonsense and a handful of rejection letters.

Christine Klocek-Lim, Poet in Residence

© 2012  Christine Klocek-Lim

Christine Klocek-Lim received the 2009 Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize in poetry. Her poetry was featured as the Editor’s Choice in the September 2011 issue of Touch: The Journal of Healing. She has four chapbooks: How to photograph the heart (The Lives You Touch Publications), The book of small treasures (Seven Kitchens Press), Cloud Studies - a sonnet sequence (Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks), and Ballroom — a love story (Flutter Press). She is editor of Autumn Sky Poetry and her website is november sky.