Behind the Words: Reflections on the Poetry Process

Honoring the many different voices of Jewish poets.

The summer after I finished my undergraduate degree, I spent a few months living alone in a swanky Ann Arbor sublet (it's amazing what $350 can get you in the midwest!). In an attempt to break my homebody habits and spend time with real people (note: the cast of Bones is not a legitimate social group), I signed up to take a creative writing class through the city rec department. That was the first time in my adult life I ever sat down and tried to write a poem. Following that summer, during a 4-month stint of self-imposed "funemployment," I joined up with a local creative writing group on the Connecticut shoreline. I was the youngest person in the group by at least 15 years and our meetings were the social highlight of my week. I spent the intermediate days alone: sewing, listening to NPR, and concocting cookies to bring to the poetry meet-ups—a thinly veiled attempt to make friends.

Each poem I write is about a person or relationship and the feelings and sensations I associate with him/her/them/it. Some explore connections with friends or family, while others dissect my relationship with God or with myself. I usually write in moments of clarity—not as a means of working through an idea or problem. Rather the poem is a record of a conclusion or discovery I have made, or perhaps poses a question for which I have decided to seek an answer.

I find that many of these "moments of clarity" are brought about when I have the opportunity to really look at nature and my surroundings in the outdoors. Many of my poems include images of animals, plants, and weather and include observations about the natural phenomena that surround us. I especially enjoy relating my own experiences to parallel events in the natural world such as the changing of the seasons. That is the analytical intro I give you for my first poem, Spring is Here Again.

Spring is Here Again

Lips crack
Cuz the heat has been on.
Fingers chap
And turn red in the wind.
Shoulders hunch to nuzzle ears
And shove away the winter chill while
Crocus petals cling to fragile stems and
Sparrows talk about God-knows-what
And mock us from the bushes.

The sidewalks
Turn dark gray and wet
As white flakes fall.
It smells like rain and looks like snow
And spring is here again.

Faith is Playing Games is about those days when everything goes wrong. When I was little and I got in a fight at school, got sick, or got hurt, one of my parents would come pick me up and I would feel a huge release. As soon as I talked to them or saw them, I knew things would be okay and I would cry and cry from a sense of relief. I think this cycle of foreboding, frustration, and release is a universal experience, the memory of which connects all of us to a sense of "faith," whether we ascribe to a religion or believe in God, or not. I find that, above all else, I have faith in people. In my connections to them, and in the love that we share.

Faith is Playing Games

Faith meets me quietly
In sliding tears and
Waves of relief
When I hear my mother’s voice
On the answering machine.
I find her in the tired pangs of my cheeks
When I can’t stop smiling
And the gentle squeeze of my sister’s hand
As it takes mine during the scary parts
Of movies.

Faith also has a tendency to
Boisterously burst into the restaurant
On the heels of an old friend
And a blast of winter wind.
She makes it her business
To nestle between my ribs
When I return home
After a long, rainy day
And the cat comes to meet me at the door.

Sometimes she hides from me,
And I have to call all my friends
To help me find her again.
I retrace my steps
And wrack my brain to remember
Where we were together last, but
She’s sneaky that one.
She waits until I give up
And then calls out
From beneath the dining room table.

I roll my eyes and sigh.
I might even laugh a little.
I tell everyone that I knew where she was hiding all along.
In short, I do everything I can
To hide the fact that
I am terribly relieved
That Faith was only playing games.


More of Etta's poetry can be read on her website.

Topics: Poetry
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How to cite this page

Heisler , Etta King. "Behind the Words: Reflections on the Poetry Process." 29 April 2013. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 29, 2023) <>.

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