Writing Mini-Lessons: Passionate Pontification, the Poetry of Fervent Voice
"Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart."
~ William Wordsworth
“Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.”
One of writing’s secrets, and amongst its greatest gifts, is that the act of writing is one of revelation. Through writing we explore and grow, learning to see ourselves and the world differently, and in return revealing ourselves and our discoveries. Author Virginia Woolf once sad that "every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works." In a sense, writing is a different way of thinking, and so writers use writing as a way of exploring and understanding their own lives and those of others.
When asked to provide writing tips to others, many authors provide advice similar to that of Wordsworth and Bradbury: to write about those things that inspire deep passion within you. If a topic evokes a strong emotional response from you, the writer, you will be passionate about evoking a similar response from your reader. Often, when we discuss our passions, we reference things we love. However, passion is fiery and can be equally well felt regarding things we loathe.
Today’s poetry is that of passionate voice, of fervent feeling—the rant poem. Just as poets have long waxed poetic about love and nature, poets have also always written about life’s vexations. The practice of ranting in poetic verse dates back to at least Ancient Greece, where Homer catches Zeus complaining in The Odyssey: "Mortal men have always put the blame upon us gods!"
Rant poetry comes in all shapes and sizes, but it is most often a free-verse prose poem written about an exasperating subject. A note here, though: you can also rant about something you adore since to rant is speak or shout at length in a wild, impassioned way.
Follow the steps below to craft your poem of passionate pontification about anything that aggravates, pesters, vexes, or otherwise drives you batty—or that makes you ecstatic, rapturous, euphoric, or fervently filled with joy.
- Settle on a single subject that provokes, annoys, exasperates or infuriates you—or has the opposite effect. This subject will be the topic of your rant poem.
- Keep the topic to one rant-worthy subject to avoid confusing the reader/audience.
- Brainstorm a list of reasons why your subject maddens or elates you. Include at least ten to twenty specific ideas.
- Decide what tone you want your poem to convey. What emotion do you want to evoke in your poem? Do you want the reader/audience to see the humor in your misery and laugh or to experience your pain vicariously, cringing at your excruciating details?
- Choose the details from your brainstorm list that you think will stimulate the reader/audience.
- Craft those into sentences that reflect your tone. For example, as stated in a handwritten rant called "Airline Complaint," the writer states, "I constructed a stink shield by shoving one end of a blanket into the overhead compartment," ranting poetically with humor about an airline lavatory.
- Write the rant poem in the present tense; this tends to give the piece a greater sense of urgency.
- Write your rant poem by stringing sentences from your brainstorm together in chronological order.
- Make sure each complaint or commendation flows to the next logically, like sentences do in paragraphs.
- Write the rant poem in the present tense; this tends to give the piece a greater sense of urgency.
- Be intentional when selecting line breaks and stanza breaks; these are clues to others about how to read your work.
- End your rant poem with the single most annoying gripe or most exalted praise.
- Revise, revise, revise.
“Texting: A Rant Poem”
I hate texting more than you will ever know
It’s impersonal, time consuming, and disruptive
You don’t hear the other person
You don’t see the other person
All you get is a terrible end product filled with “LOLZ”
I hate it. I HATE it. I HATE IT.
I’m having a nice conversation their phone vibrates
A finger goes up “just give me a minute”
Flesh and blood before your eyes
And you’re talking to that improper idiot
Who seems capable of only one word replies
It’s crazy how people subject themselves to this,
These twisted rules that comprise of
When to use a smiley
How long to wait to respond
Lack of proper punctuation
Mandatory mutilation of the English language
A waste of time
Taking five minutes to try to word
Tweak, modify, re-word
Something that could have been said in 20 seconds
It actually confuses me
I will concede
Texting has a time and place
During class, in a restaurant, when parents are around
It’s perfectly acceptable when trying to be discrete
But when I’m with you
And we’ve both taken a seat
Please be considerate
brb just give me a minute
What Teachers Make
He says the problem with teachers is
What’s a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life
was to become a teacher?
He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true
what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.
I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests
that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.
Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation.
I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor.
Be honest. What do you make?
And I wish he hadn’t done that— asked me to be honest—
because, you see, I have this policy about honesty and keister-‐kicking:
if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor
and an A-‐ feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time
with anything less than your very best.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?
Because you’re bored.
And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?
I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today.
To the biggest bully in the grade, he said,
“Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?
It’s no big deal.”
And that was noblest act of courage I have ever seen.
I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.
You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math
and hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you’ve got this,
then you follow this,
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this.
Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers work to make a difference! Now what about you?
~ Taylor Mali
Growing Up: A Rant
Growing up is hard to do
that’s why when I was 12 years old
I said I would never do it
because it is full
of heartache and hatred,
trouble and lies,
what is the point of leading
such an unfulfilled life?
Now at only 17, I am being catapulted
into a world full of lifelong choices,
where one wrong move—
one stupid mistake—
can ruin my existence.
Yet I have so much resistance
because I cling to this notion that I
will never grow old.
“Responsibility is for grownups!”
I would shout then…and even now…
but the difference is, today I am on the brink
of taking five standardized tests in two weeks
and visiting a big brick building
that will feed my mind
and prepare me for "life"—
as if I am not already alive.
What is "the real world?”
Is it not what I have been
experiencing since birth?
Why does reality only hit when you’re 18
and starving for attention?
Silly me, I was under the impression
that I am a human being,
having experiences and learning lessons
that will fill my soul,
but that’s not true after all;
I will only be useful
when I have a successful career
and a child at my hip.
Forget these rules of society.
I am a human, a person, an adult.
But not because I chose to be one,
I was forced into this role
that has deteriorated my mind
and thrown me into raging fits
of anxiety and depression.
Yes, my time in high school
has been the greatest of my life—
if by "great" you mean emotionally damaging;
if by “great” you mean having to be
someone other than the me I am meant to be.
No, the greatest time of my life
is yet to come!
Without question, you are the worst thing that ever happened to my poetry. And I’m serious, I’ve heard about writer’s block but this—is ridiculous. My poetic fluidity has dried up faster than a woman hitting menopause to the point where this dry spells got me praying for some inspirational discharge to leak from the folds of grey matter in my brain and…shoot!
See what I mean? I’ve been thinking for far too long with my heart instead of my head, and I think people may be starting to notice and I’ve got a reputation to uphold man! And no, it’s not my time of the month, so don’t ask. It’s my time of the day, or what used to be, when I could sit down and write a really gritty angry poem, one that just seethed with angst- but now I can’t! Because I’m just too darn happy! Or should I say sappy?
Because I used to watch Face the Nation for international news, then West Wing for international hope, turn out great political satire ripe with biting wit and sarcasm… but I can’t do it anymore!
You know why? Because I don’t watch those shows anymore, because you’ve got me watching the stars—and I don’t mean Brad Angelina, no—I mean those stars. You’ve got me watching them, thinking about whether you’re watching the same ones as me and—maybe that would make a good poem? And, and, and… this is garbage!
Like a slap across the face of my muse who’s had to withstand so much abuse she’s threatened to leave my side, leave my mind! I try to tell her: please, it’s just not a good time, but she leaves me with my please and really bad rhymes and—I can’t do this!
I refuse to let my words sink to such levels of atrocity, refuse to submit to “Roses are red, violets are blue, my poetry stinks and it’s all thanks to you!” But you turn my brain to mush and it’s so hard not to let my thoughts run off in moments of ridiculous romanticism and irrelevant metaphors like—dipping my tongue and hands into the paint can of my mind, I splatter gooey gobs of thought onto the wall, then watching as the rest of the world tries to make sense of my lovesick babble, they—come with black sharpies and try to connect the dots, forming man-made constellations with my nonsensical thoughts…
And this has to stop! Because writing in abstract metaphors so that you think I have a more poetic view on the world than you is against my poetic ethics, which, rhymes with ethnics, which, incidentally is one more poem topic you have rendered useless. Because I’m a hoppa, means I’m a mixed blood, which means I never fit inside the check-mark box, always fall between the cracks, and always write about finding my culture, where I belong.
But those poems have fallen to the wayside as I find I belong up against your chest, your arms around my back, my head under your chin, eyes closed. I sit down to write a poem, and the only thing in my head is you—and I don’t understand why you’re the worst thing that ever happened to my poetry, if you’re the best that ever happened to me.
~ Sarah Kay
Black Pepper Corns
Those little, ugly,
black pepper corns.
They taste so awful
when they explode
in your mouth
with excruciating flavor.
The worst part
is they expand
to every single one
of your taste buds
in many directions!
Every time I see
with my majestic,
I get a horrible feeling,
a feeling that makes
my tummy rumble
Oh, how atrocious
those peppercorns are,
always giving people
a dreadful time!
They never let you go
until that ten-minute
mark is over.
Those little peppercorns
are always hiding
beneath your food
and in your food.
Each peppercorn is
like a diminutive detective
hiding in the abyss
trying to pop out
at the right time
ready to put
a bad taste
in your mouth
when you least