The F Words: Poetry

If you’ve been reading my blogs on how I wrote The F Words, you might remember that I set out to write a YA novel about student rights, immigrant rights, and political protest. Never did it cross my mind that I would also be writing a novel about poetry. Or writing poems themselves.

But somehow, that happened. It happened in the first few pages, with the inciting incident: Cole’s English teacher, Mr. Nachman, catches him tagging the high school wall with the f word and makes him atone for it by: (1) cleaning up the graffiti, and (2) writing two poems a week for the entire school year, each about a word that begins with the letter f.

Honestly, I don’t remember how I came up with this atonement. It just seemed right, something that an English teacher such as Mr. Nachman (who has a sense of irony) would require for a student’s emotional and intellectual growth. The words came out of Mr. Nachman’s mouth . . . and suddenly both Cole and I were stuck with writing two f-word poems a week

Well, just as I went full-speed-ahead with the inciting incident, I decided to do the same with the poetry. The inciting incident occurred on a Thursday night and, as Mr. Nachman reminded Cole, the next day was Friday. Two poems were due.

So Cole goes home and pulls out a dictionary, turns to the f words, and his eye alights on the word far. He opens his tablet and writes:

Far

is not here
it is there
far is the opposite
of near

It’s hard for me to remember exactly what I was thinking as I was writing about Cole writing the poem. I was definitely into the mind of a 15-year-old working -class high school boy. He would want to do as little work as possible on this extra assignment. So: short word, short poem. Short work. Cole’s feeling pretty confident.

He scans the list of words after far and considers writing a poem about fart, but decides Nachman might not accept it. Then his eyes light on fartlek, a training technique for runners. Cole is a cross-country runner: he knows fartlek.

Cole gives the poem a title and starts copying the dictionary definition, breaking up the lines so that what he’s writing looks like a poem. He gets this far:

Fartlek

from fart, Swedish for speed
and lek,
Old Norse for play, play speed,
a training
technique for runners, 
alternating intense 
time 
with less intense 
time, 
all in one continuous workout. 

Cole wants to consider the poem done. But he realizes that Mr. Nachman will realize that he (Cole) merely copied a dictionary definition. And he was given instructions to not do that. So Cole adds another stanza, entirely his own, and the poem ends up like this:

Fartlek

from fart, Swedish for speed
and lek,
Old Norse for play, play speed,
a training
technique for runners, 
alternating intense 
time 
with less intense 
time, 
all in one continuous workout. 

But whoever called it play speed
never
had to 
do it.

For a moment Cole is deeply bothered by the words intense time in the poem, so much so that he thinks of not turning the poem in. But that would mean writing a third poem, which he doesn’t want to do. So he prints out the two poems, puts them aside for the next day, and goes to sleep.

What was evident to me as I was writing this first chapter was all the anger and fear Cole feels because his father is doing time in Cook County Jail. The “Far” poem is a sign of how much he misses his father, who is no longer near. The “Fartlek” poem reflects a large part of Cole’s life and interest: his cross-country running. But the stanza he adds to the poem reflects his understanding that training is not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult, and doing it requires commitment. 

I felt good when Cole wrote these two poems in the first chapter. I felt that what was on his mind was coming out in poetry. I felt that he was well on the way toward self-reflection and change. All a result of the inciting incident. 

_________________________

The F Words is available for Pre-Order wherever books are sold: from the publisher, City of Light Publishing; from IndieBound, the site for independent bookstores; from Barnes & Noble; and from Amazon. To get updates and the latest news on The F Words, subscribe to Barbara Gregorich’s Newsletter.

One thought on “The F Words: Poetry

  1. What a great example of how to turn a child’s angst into something productive, Barbara. In my case Mr. Jones at Middleburg Hts Jr. High had a giant paddle with holes in it to decrease the drag! (although I’m not sure which would be worse punishment for a 15-year old boy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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