Poetry as a Mining Tool

By: Claudia Ricci


There are many reasons I love to write poetry-

it makes me feel good

it centers my emotions

it is exhilarating to feel my way through words…



But there is a very practical reason I write it too. Through the years, poetry has helped me sustain the marathon effort that is required to write a novel.

My first novel, Dreaming Maples, was six years in the making, and writing poetry along the way was essential. During some periods, I was writing poems – sometimes every day – like this one:

She, Audrey, would be God if She could.

She would tell her/my story all knowing, as if she knew it end to end.

Right from the beginning, She wanted to be God. She spoke in such exalted language. And at times she would yell her point of view,

right out loud, the omnipotent narrator, and all the paying crowds would listen. And who would berate her (not me) or deny her that power?

The hour has come for Her.

She would be the Sun if she could.

She would be the wood, the water, the ice and snow, the trees and even the stone she carves.

She would shine down on us. In words of her invention. And give us, and this book, life, she would adorn us all in green leaves, and all of us would glisten, our faces glowing in her rays as we enjoy her fruits and vegetables.

Begin the Day…

Writing a poem was a kind of jump-start every morning, a way to get back to the project that loomed so large. It was a way to crank up the narrative voice, a reminder that all I needed to do was keep laying words on paper, keep steadily writing from the visions I was carrying in my mind. (I always see the scenes that I’m writing, as if I have a movie reel in my head.)

So often when you’re writing a novel you feel discouraged. Confused. You doubt yourself or you just feel like a jerk.

Who’s going to want to read these hundreds of pages I am spending so much endless time generating?

When those thoughts set in, I know that it’s time to go diving into poetry. I can lay down my doubts and fears, ask questions about plot and character, explore some of my confusion, and also write about my dreams too, that is, what I hope to achieve with the novel.

In a real way, poetry has for me, acted like a mining tool for my mind. The poem comes up against the stone of mental resistance, and it chisels away into the tunnel so I can go forward with my long writing project. Click To Tweet

Years of Paper – Years of Poems

Never was poetry more important to me that it was with my recently published third novel, Sister Mysteries. That tome took me – are you sitting down? —23 years to complete. In addition to writing at least two or three complete versions of the outer story, I also wrote stacks and stacks and stacks of poems, pouring myself onto endless pages as I struggled to understand why I was writing the book and what it was I was trying to achieve.

Here is a snippet I wrote somewhere along the way:

Yes, I am writing it.  And not just for me and not even mostly

for me.  I am writing it for everybody.

Who is sick and needs healing. 

Who is sick and needs reading.

Who in the end, will, die just like me. 

Of x or y or z

or that dreaded C.

Because in the end, everybody does.



Hidden in the Words

Lately, as I’ve pondered book number four, it has occurred to me that maybe poetry is more than just a mining tool.

Maybe it has become the genre of choice. I’ve been writing poems nearly every day, all of them focused on the experience of the NOW.

As my spiritual practices, especially meditation, deepen, I keep wondering what kind of narrative voice will emerge?

The question I am asking is this: is it possible that the next “novel” will be a series of short poems all entwined around the same theme?

Time will tell.

And I’ll be happy to keep you posted.



Bio: Claudia Ricci, Ph.D.

claudia ricci Ph.D. Monthly Contributor at Two Drops of Ink Marilyn l davisClaudia Ricci, Ph.D., was a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal and a prize-winning reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, where one of her projects was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

Her novels include:

Her short fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines nationwide.

Ricci spent 15 years teaching English and journalism at the University at Albany and was a visiting professor for one year at Georgetown University.

To order her novels, visit her website at www.claudiajricci.com


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One comment

  1. I’ve never thought of using poetry to unlock other work. I don’t write much poetry, but as tool to keep me moving forward on other projects might make me give it another try.

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