Celebrate National Poetry Month with Poet, Phil Kaye


Phil KayeDuring this month of warming temperatures and blooming flowers, we celebrate the beauty of spring -- and poetry. What better way to increase awareness of this unique art form during National Poetry Month than to hear from one of its experienced artists. In our recent Meetings With Remarkable Men and Women webinar, poet Phil Kaye discussed his perspective.
At age seventeen, Phil Kaye experienced an “electric” poetry reading that became his inspiration to start writing. Since then, his work has been featured in The New Yorker and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. He’s performed original poetry in twenty countries -- including an 80th birthday celebration for His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Phil is the co-director of Project VOICE, an organization that helps bring poetry to the classroom and is a former teacher of poetry workshops in maximum security prisons. Phil recently talked about his creative journey and shared some of his work as examples of his process. 

Where Do Poems Come From?

Once there was a child who asked Phil a touching question, “Are all of our lives stories?” His answer came in the form of a poem. “We are all great stories...we all have a beginning, middle, and end -- not necessarily in that order.” There are times when inspiration flows, but mostly it’s a slower and steadier process. Poetry comes from whatever “moves your consciousness” and makes you feel something. “Remember those moments and jot them down.” Phil invites writers to take time to play around with ideas. “A poem is a little house you want someone to come live in… it doesn’t get built in a day.”
Many of the poetry examples Phil shares come from experiences with friends, family, his childhood, and current situations. While the subject matters are personal, there’s a distant element to them in order to help him feel comfortable sharing with strangers. One of the things he loves about poetry is “the flexibility and getting to write whatever you want...past, present, future.” One of the pitfalls is that many think poetry has to be one thing -- either something sad, about nature, or it has to rhyme. “The world is full of all sorts of poetry… [it] reflects nuance and diversity…”

Conquering the Creative Process

Even with so many possible poetic subjects, poems take time to write. There are also times when writing can be hard. Some may try and not like the result, ultimately believing they are not creative. However, there’s always an element of self-doubt, even after being published, awarded, and having years of experience. “That’s okay…” Phil promises. “It’s part of the process.”
If there’s one thing he stresses, it’s to not put too much pressure on yourself. “Don’t be afraid to write a bad poem... you have all the tools you need to start -- pen and paper. There’s value in starting... just go for it.”
Other tips to get started include:

Make small goals. It’s easier if you set a time commitment. He’s recently set the goal of 10 new poems in 10 days.

Find others you feel comfortable sharing ideas with. This helps to hold yourself accountable and get yourself excited about the work.

Experiment with other forms of writing to expand ideas. It helps to process the process.

Give your creative brain a rest. Do other activities you enjoy that have nothing to do with writing.

“A major part of writing is shutting down the voice in our head that says, ‘Mmm, maybe this isn’t good enough’…” Self-doubt is not uncommon; in fact, a little “pinch” of doubt can be helpful. Plus, you don’t have to share everything.
A better solution? “Imagine two heads sitting on your shoulder.” The first is in charge of your first draft. It thinks you are “the greatest thing that happened to writing” (in Phil’s case, this is his mom). This helps you say yes to weird ideas and see where things go. The other head pops up while writing your second draft. It’s the voice of a trusted opinion and constructive feedback that helps you rework and self-edit. Two heads really are more helpful than one. 

Finding Inspiration in the Everyday

There are many ways to dive into the world of poetry -- online sources, YouTube videos, practice, and surrounding yourself with material and inspirational people in the industry. One way Phil finds motivation is in a calm mental state and a schedule. He makes a habit of writing without distractions, like the phone and internet, “bombarding the mind with images.” Staying calm and focused helps keep him creative and creating.