The Roller-Coaster Poem

So, what is a roller-coaster poem?  “Roller Coaster” would be a pretty good title for a poem, story, song, movie, anything (I’m a sucker for short or one-word titles), but that’s not what I’m talking about.  You may have read that title and thought to yourself “what the heck?” but I’ll explain.

First of all, I don’t actually like roller coasters.  That feeling of rushing down a steep drop where your stomach seems to be floating somewhere in your chest and your palms are cold, yet also sweaty, is not a feeling I enjoy.  I avoid riding roller coasters, but I love when a good poem is a roller coaster.

I’ve mentioned a few times before that I love finding something unexpected in a poem.  This comes from a poetry class I took in college that completely blew my mind and focused on collaborative poetry.  I’m not necessarily one for collaborating on work other than to get feedback and exchange ideas, but this class introduced me to the beauty that is two different trains of thought colliding together (I suppose you could call a poem written this way a train wreck poem, too, if we are going with that metaphor.  But for now, I’ll stick to roller coasters).

This class taught me that some of the most amazing literary genius comes from unlikely comparisons.  From gangly language put together with lyricism, from opposite words being clashed together, from two divergent roads unexpectedly converging out of the blue.

When this happens, I like to think of it as a roller coaster.  When riding along on a roller coaster, there’s always some sort of hint of where you are going.  You can, after all, see what’s in front of you. You may have gazed up at the metal monster you were about to hop aboard while in line and memorized some of the curves and drops.  Yet, when those curves and drops happen, and you get that feeling of your gut being suspended in air, they’re still unexpected. You can’t prepare for that feeling, even if you have felt it a million times.

I like to think that the best poems are a bit like riding that roller coaster.  We’ve all read poems before—we’ve studied sonnets or been shocked by the vivid simplicity of a few lines of free verse.  We’ve all probably tried our hand at writing a poem. Some of us would call ourselves poets, and some of us thought “never again” after writing the final line.  But what separates poems from the “never again” category and the breathtaking category?

It’s the roller coaster of reading that takes place in a good poem.  I love when I’m reading a sonnet, but it’s written in the most un-Shakespeare like language I’ve ever seen.  I love when I’m drawn into the voice and lyricism of a poem only to have it change and morph as I go (…almost like two different people wrote it…)  I love when I’m riding along with a poem up, up, up and suddenly, the bottom falls out from under me when an unexpected comparison comes to life or the so-called plot suddenly jeers left.

Part of the beauty of poetry is that you can make those sudden drops and roller coaster turns.  Throwing in a crazy word that doesn’t make any sense can make your poem come to life in a way that it didn’t in the first line.  Not all writing can handle this change, but poetry can. Poetry allows for an obscure and crazy roller coaster ride—the scarcity of language in a poem leaves room for the unexpected.

So, try it yourself!  Pretend you are two different people writing a poem.  Add in a drop here and a curve there. Take your reader on a wild ride—and send us your roller coaster poem once you’re done experimenting!

Cover image courtesy of PixaBay.

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