Poety as Lubricant

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “poetry as lubricant.” Sitting down to write a poem is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. Some people journal or write morning pages (as in The Artist’s Way). I like to start a fresh studio day with a poem to clear the decks, leave the to-do list behind and go deep inside myself. Focus. Clarify. Meditate on words.

A few years ago I took a poetry class through Portland Community College. It was an eye opener for this former word-phobic artist. I will never think of myself as a writer or a poet, but writing words is no longer a dreaded chore. For this class assignment the teacher asked the class to look around the classroom and call out the names of three objects in the room. The first three words called out were: baseball, mascara, crayons. Now go make a poem that uses those three words. Here’s what I came up with during that class:

Urban Decay by Laura Russell

Urban Decay © Laura Russell. Click on this photo to see a larger image. Note the baby crib inside the front door.

Urban Decay

There, on the porch of the pink one,
the sun shines through the stained glass,
red like a ruby.

There, on the porch of the brown one,
a baseball left behind as they
rush into night, mascara-smeared faces
dripping like soft fruit in a juicer.

No more crayons, no more trains,
no more baby cribs. It’s all gone.

Gone. The soul of these houses
as they burn, smoke pouring from
the windows and doors.

Gone. Soon. The doors and windows
and pipes and siding, all stripped,
all sold. Gone.

How much more can we stand?
How much longer can these empty shells stand?

How can you stand to just drive by
when the future of your factory town is gone.


This poem ended up one of two in my Urban Decay artist book, which is about my home town of Saginaw, Michigan. You can see more images from this book here.

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