Because I Can’t Tell You What to Write, I’ll Tell You

My goal has always been to produce the type of writing that people want to read in the morning. I want to develop a writing style that sets a tone of hope or gratitude or strength for the day, so that readers look forward to reading my work at any time of the day.

When I find that a piece of writing is readable in the morning, I find that the writing is also easy to read after a long day of work or on a day when I’m feeling down. I like reading Mary Oliver’s poems in the mornings because she usually makes me appreciate the things that are so easy to take for granted.

In the poem “Little Dog’s Rhapsody in the Night” from the book Dog Songs, Oliver writes, “’Tell me you love me,’ he says / ‘Tell me again.’ / Could there be a sweeter arrangement? Over and over / he gets to ask. / I get to tell. ” Despite not having a pet dog anymore, these lines bring back memories. And they’re like a cup of warm coffee.

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The Impressions of These Lines

I found the  following lines in Louise Gluck’s poem “Echoes” from her book Averno: “From our kitchen garden / you could see the mountains, / snow covered, even in summer. / I remember peace of a kind / I never knew again. / Somewhat later, I took it upon myself / to become an artist, / to give voice to these impressions.” Looking back on my life as an artist, I gave voice to impressions, too, but I didn’t know I was becoming an artist through my writing.

Maybe these line struck a cord because I wrote my first poems in a house that faced the Franklin mountains in El Paso, Texas. I was a child then, and still had what I’ll call the childhood peace,  the type of peace that protects you from grown-up troubles.

Yet, I still found myself affected by my parent’s hardships, so I wrote my first poem. Despite feeling so proud of myself for being able to convey my emotions with rhyme, I could not translate the poem word for word to Spanish for my father. My poem lost its rhyme, and I lost my voice.

My poem lost its rhyme, and I lost my voice. 

I wonder: where is the voice, when you don’t have the right language to express an impression? I want to go off on a tangent here to tell you that I often feel that parts of myself don’t exist in English just like parts of myself don’t exist in Spanish. (I’ve written about this before.) And when I think of this, I don’t feel whole.

For me, writing has always been about describing an impression. Of what has marked me marks me again and again until I give voice to the truth. The impressions, they begged permanence on page, and I never intended to become an artist.

Did you take it upon yourself to become an artist like Louis Gluck? Or did you give voice to impressions first and then realized you were becoming an artist? 

This blog post is part of a poetry series called These Lines in which I share poetry lines that move me and why they move me.

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The Nature of These Lines

I share poetry lines that move me and why they move me in this poetry series called “These Lines.” I am still reading The Carrying by Ada Limon, so lines from her poems made it to this series again.


I hate the world, the pain of it that circles in us,

that makes us want to be the moon,

the treasure, and not the thing on the sea


from “The Dead Boy” by Ada Limon

  • I have found myself hating the world and its pain. I love how Ada includes everyone in this “want[ing] to be the moon” with her use of “us.” I have also wondered what it would be like to be something nonhuman: a flower, a river, a bird.

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