How often do you wash your hands in a day? According to a study conducted in 2008, the average American washed their hands about 8 times a day.
Now, how often do you take the time to feel the soap against your hands as you wash them?
In his poem Aimless Love poet Billy Collins writes “I found myself standing at the bathroom sink/gazing down affectionately at the soap,/so patient and soluble,/so at home in its pale green soap dish”. The entire poem serves as a love letter to all the small things in life that bring him joy. He describes his affection for “a bowl of broth,/steam rising like smoke from a naval battle” and “the dead mouse,/still dressed in it’s little brown suit”.
Each line describes some overlooked aspect of life, be it an object or an action. This makes for effective poetry because it draws attention to things in our life that are recognizable, yet unnoticed. Every point in the poem becomes an “aha” moment for the audience.
Another poem that celebrates the everyday in this manner is The Traveling Onion by Naomi Shihab Nye. By looking at this poem, it becomes clear how one exemplifies a mundane item and exalts it as something admirable. The Traveling Onion honors the wonders of the humble vegetable and paints an ode that commemorates the parts of the onion often taken for granted.
Nye refers to each detail of the onion as “small forgotten miracles”. She proclaims the glory of “crackly paper peeling on the drainboard,/pearly layers in smooth agreement”, and laments how frequently we overlook the “the translucence of onion,/now limp, now divided”. It’s a simple vegetable, but Nye acknowledges the beauty locked within it enough to carry an entire poem.
Practicing poetry focused on the little things and their unseen importance can help you hone your fantasy and science fiction writing skills. By studying what makes a certain object unique and worth celebrating, you can begin to identify similar things in your own worlds.
When writing poems like this (or crafting your world), here are things to consider:
-What components make up the object? How do the individual parts work together (or oppose one another)?
- How does it react with its environment? Does it belong? Is it out of place?
- How does it capture motion? Must it be acted upon to move? Does it strike and jab, or glide and slither?
- What’s its relation to people? What do people typically want from it, and how do they get it?
- Think in terms of the five senses. How do you perceive the way it looks, feels, sounds, etc.? How does the object perceive the world using the five senses?
- What would the object say if it could speak? What does it think about?
Here’s an exercise for you to try out. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and listen to your surroundings. Focus on the different layers of sound: is there a fan somewhere, or buzzing fluorescent lights? Or whispering grass and the occasional drone of an insect?
Feel the weight of your clothing resting against your skin. Perhaps one particular tag tickles you in a hard to reach spot, or your shirt swaddles you loose enough for the breeze to brush down the back of your neck.
Open your eyes. What’s the first thing you see? Examine it, dissect it with your eyes, pull it apart and piece it together. Think about what and why that thing is here, and what components make that object the way it is.
Then find what makes that thing important, and write about it. Scribble a haiku, whip out a limerick, just get words on a page. Repeat as often as you desire. You’ll start seeing the world in a new fantastical light.
is a writer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Graduating in May 2020 with a degree in English Literature with a Writing Emphasis, Ian writes comics, poetry, and scripts. He is currently an intern for The Brain Health Magazine and aims to work in the comic publishing industry. In his spare time, Ian plays Dungeons & Dragons, board games, and bass guitar.