Has This Ever Happened to You? (The Case of the Stubborn Muse)


There have been many irons in my creative fire as of late, and while I’ve been forging ahead with them all, one defiant story has been giving me a Dickinson of a time.

It doesn’t want to behave how I want it to behave.

Don’t get me wrong. I never force my stories to be anything other than what they will be, and it has been gaily following my lead, however, rather than arriving at that glorious destination via my plan, it’s been taking the scenic route: stopping to smell the roses, skipping through meadows, hugging trees and avoiding gluten—i.e., lollygagging me until I’m blue in the face.

My story—oh for crying out loud, I may as well just come out and say it—my story wants to be a poem. A frilly, frolic-in-the-autumn-mist poem.

I didn’t set out to raise a poem and am not even sure how it happened. Was it something I wrote? Months ago, when I penned the opening line, it seemed to behave like all my other darlings—you know, like prose.

But in the middle of the second sentence, a slight lilt had developed in its step, and by the end of the first paragraph, an undeniable cadence had taken the baton right out of my hand. There was even internal rhyme! I kept writing, allowing the story to have complete freedom, but hoping for an outcome of prose.

When lispy words like “hither” and “thither” sashayed around the room spritzing patchouli oil in my face, I shrugged it off to youthful exuberance, but once “‘ere” and “air” entered the picture, that confirmed it. Those two were known homophones. My story was indeed a poem.

Unsure how to feel about this development, I let it sit for a spell, telling myself that this was just a phase.

Keep in mind that I don’t have anything against poetry. Some of my closest friends are poets, and I’ve even dabbled in the-verse-that-dare-not-speak-its-rhyme during my college years (not to mention a particularly wild weekend with a bunch of Limericks from Nantucket).

But you see, I had big plans for this story, plans that will now be more difficult as it begins its life as a poem. Some competitions won’t even recognize verse, treating it as second-class literature, while others “don’t mind” poetry, as long as you read it in the privacy of your own home.

On Tuesday, the internet was out, forcing me to work offline, so I stopped by to see how the kid was doing. It was wearing this:

Crap. A Poet's Shirt. In lace.
Crap. A Poet’s Shirt. In lace.

I took a deep breath, gathered my composure, looked straight into its questioning eyes, and gave it the biggest hug of its life.

“Perhaps I’m not the most knowledgeable person in this field,” I said. “I don’t know much about rhyme schemes and alliterative allusions, quatrains and cinquains, but I’m here, ready to sit down and embrace the prosody that is you.”

And with that, it was as if new life were breathed into both my poem and me. We knew that whatever obstacles lay ahead, we’d face them together.

My baby still has much growing to do, but when the time comes and it feels right, I’ll take it down to get its Poetic License and send it on its artsy way to make this world a better place.


ML Swift

Photo Credits: Poetry Society Postcard by summonedbyfells; Poet’s Shirt via Velvet and Lace Men’s Wear


44 thoughts on “Has This Ever Happened to You? (The Case of the Stubborn Muse)

  1. Thanks for a smile, and best of luck to you and the newborn poem.

    Absolutely love the line “I’ll take it down to get it’s Poetic License.”

  2. *snicker*
    I know how you feel but go with it and celebrate the little tyke.
    You’ll be glad when someone gives it a like.
    And if they don’t,
    Just tell them to take a hike.

  3. The age-old question appears once again…..Was it born that way or was it a choice to become a poem?……We will never know, but all you can do is show acceptance and love.

  4. *hehehe* Yes, it happened and actually won the contest- I couldn’t believe it. So just let your story/poem have it’s way and see what happens. You might be surprised 🙂

  5. My dilemma is usually short stories that turn themselves into novels, or stories about one thing that turn themselves into stories about another thing all together. Unfortunately I always err on the side of more words, not less. [Cue the kid in the AT&T commercial: “We want more, we want more.”]

    1. This one was a short story (planned at around 1000-1500) that began as prose. Seriously. But around the second sentence, I couldn’t get away from rhyme. It just kept happening. I’d put alternate words in parentheses trying to keep it at prose, but finally I started embracing the rhyme and working with it.

  6. The best thing is always to support your writing and let it be true to itself. Authenticity and all, ya know.
    Once there was a challenge to write a fable- a true fable with all the elements and I jumped right on it, determined to do the best damn fable ever. I sat down to write and a fable came out but in ballad form- meter, rhyme, quatrains. Instead of trying to force it to be prosey, I helped it become a polished (and very weird) ballad. I then became a poet and left story writing behind for several years. Lately, however, prose has tapped me on the shoulder and is asking for a chance. shrug.

    Let it be, bro. Let it be. 😀

    “the-verse-that-dare-not-speak-its-rhyme” OMGoodness, love this post!

    (and by the way, I would love to read it!!)

    1. That’s exactly where I was heading…be true to the work, let it be what it wants.

      This is a piece I’m working on for competition and my other blog (which I’ve been neglecting and need to start posting on more regularly). Of course you can read it once done.

      But I tell you, it’s with my poetry that I really need the IWSG! I’m not nearly as secure in that.

  7. Maybe you should just let it go as a poem and finish. Then once you’ve let it sat, come back and seen if you can’t construct a full story out of it.
    Poetic writing is a gift. One I certainly don’t possess!

    1. That’s exactly what I’m doing, Alex…going with the flow instead of against it. When all is said and done, we’ll see how it fared.

  8. My novel is growing tangents like weeds lately. I think I finally have it in hand. The tangent just didn’t work. Glad you mad peace with yours. Mine got the axe.

  9. And your post is kind of poetic in its irony. It seems to me you’re just recovering from the shock it caused you. I am really bad with poetry in English. I might try a poem in Spanish if someone threatens to kill me if I don’t, but never in English. Good luck with your rhymes, my dear friend. If someone can make it work, it’s you.

    1. Well, I didn’t really want this one to be a poem (there is another one that I set out to write as a poem, and it’s sitting idle—poetry is so difficult). But this one wanted to be a poem, so…a poem it is! Would love to read one of your Spanish poems.

      1. I can read Spanish…took a few years of it in school and lived in San Diego for ten years…but never became conversational. I can understand a slow speaker, but in reading, even if I don’t know a word or two here and there, I can usually figure it out.

  10. I love that you just embraced where creation was leading you. It sounds inspired to me. Fun post –great to read. You have such a way with words!

    1. Julie! I’ve missed your gawjus face around the net today. I know you’ve got TONS coming up, though, and are busy with that.

      You should see this poem…it’s written with a lot of parentheses that contain the alternate lines…still flip-flopping about it. Sometimes poetry (or at least MY poetry) can sound too juvenile…Roses are red type of stuff.

      So, I’m writing it, trying to give the poetry free reign, but still wondering if it’s going to be prose when all is said and done. We’ll see which one sounds better.

  11. Ha ha. I fell into a poem recently, and got the shock of my life when the ‘we accept, please send bio’ email showed up (which led to a different type of panic altogether. Me? Poet? Huh?). A change in form is a wonderful thing. Nurse that baby. . . at least until it gets teeth.

    1. ERICA! I’ve missed you so much and was thisclose to dashing off an email to check on you.

      Goodness! Congrats on the fall into poetry! Your Year of Rejection doesn’t sound like too much rejection! Woo hoo! I’m so proud of your accomplishments and fearlessness in pursuing publication. And the success you’re having! So good to see you!

  12. Well, it’s — uh — delightful? — that you’re dabbling in poetry. I went down that dark street once and ended up on the corner of Frustration and Wasted Time. I hope your adventure is more pleasant and fruitful than mine was. 🙂

    1. That’s how it feels, Lexa…a lot of frustration and a big waste of time, but that’s how it wants to be told—in verse. I get to a point where the best choice is rhyme and any other word sounds much worse.

      And I have to keep from telling myself, “This sounds stupid” every five seconds and write it anyway.

  13. Very awesome. Thanks for sharing. I didn’t get to this until today, but what a perfect post to get the weekend started! Isn’t it fantastic to know that these words that flow forth from us have a life all their own? I very often think that the stories or poems already exist on some other plane, and we are merely the receivers of them, catching them, deciphering them and sharing them with the world… I’m sorry. I think I put too much sugar in that last cup of coffee. I’d better go lay down.
    Have a great weekend.


    1. Jimmy-

      Thanks for coming by and commenting. It is quite awesome (and a little disconcerting) to not feel in control of the words I write, but somehow choosing the perfect fit. I like your philosophy…it is a lot like snatching a word or phrase out of the ether, pulling it down, and placing it in the story.

      Hmmm…maybe I’ve had too much sugar, too. 🙂

  14. Well, congrats on coming out as a poet! Funny how some transformations are just natural, no matter what you wish for our initially expected. May it be a beautiful thing. 🙂

  15. Mike, what a fun LOL posting. Sometimes ya just gotta give in to the genre that works.

    Although he doesn’t usually ‘fess up, Mark’s first two published books were collections of poetry, and lots of the poems are verse narratives.

    [Okay, Mark’s stepping to the mic now:] Mike, there’s a great essay by Colorado Poet Laureate David Mason called “Other Lives: On Shorter Narrative Poems,” which explains why some stories are actually better in verse. Worth digging up. [Whew! Mark gave up the mic.]

    Next time the Internet goes out, indulge yourself and write a few lines of poetry!

    1. KnM! So good to see you…I know you’ve been engrossed in the Little Greed Men kickoff and was hoping you hadn’t outgrown lil’ ol’ me.

      Actually, I DO love good poetry. My favorite poet is none other than Poe. Most people wouldn’t classify him as a poet, but I do. That’s the kind of poetry that I write. I also love the usuals…Keats, Whitman, Seuss.

      I’ll definitely have to look up that book. Thanks for coming by and don’t be strangers!

  16. Swifty,

    Two things.

    1. Is that the shirt from Seinfeld?

    2. In college I went through a phase with poetry. I don’t talk about it much and my family doesn’t know about it. Still feels a little weird but exciting at the same time.

  17. Mike, the things I write more often than not definitely don’t behave the way I want them to behave. Also, that’s so hilarious when you said you checked back on your story and it was wearing a poet’s shirt. I cracked up on that one.

    1. I’m beginning to wonder if I ever knew how to write in the first place!

      I swear that poet’s shirt was made from a tablecloth we donated to Goodwill. I’d know that tatting anywhere.


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