Practically Poetic by Pamela Bennett

Looks like February is not the cruelest month….it just feels that way.

I was positive the second month of the year was called the cruelest by an old poet—after all, it’s the last month of winter and the weather is usually lousy.

But when I looked up the phrase (thank you, Google), T.S. Eliot actually called April the cruelest month in his long poem “The Wasteland.”


April is the cruelest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots with spring rain.

Winter kept us warm, covering

Earth in forgetful snow, feeding

A little life with dried tubers…


Maybe Eliot was impatient with April’s cold rains when spring should have sprung, but excuse me—Winter kept us warm?

Not my winter.

We’ve learned a new word here in the Midwest—“Polar Vortex.”

It buried us in a deep freeze and left us there.

When we finally hit 45 degrees last week after months of feeling like we lived in Siberia, coats came off and people beamed in the sunshine as if it were 70 degrees.

And yes, because of the recent winter Olympics, I happen to know Siberia frequently dips into double digits below zero. So we are obviously a bunch of wimps. But there it is.

There might be another reason February is the cruelest month—Valentine’s Day. Oh I know—it’s all hearts and flowers if you’re half of a couple. Or should be.

Those of us who are not half of a couple can get pretty cynical when Feb. 14 rolls around.

Which brings me back to poetry. Even writers who would never think of writing poetry might want to wax poetic once in a while.

Poet Jane Hirshfield said:

“To step into a poem is to agree to risk. Writing takes down all protections, to see what steps forward….the writer is both magician and audience. You reach your hand into the hat and surprise yourself with rabbit or memory, with odd verb or slant rhyme or the flashing scarf of an image.”

She tells young people who ask for writing advice, “Open the window a few inches more than is comfortable.”

I often turn to poetry—reading it or writing it—when my mood is low or I’m uncertain where to go next in a scene I’m writing. Or when something overwhelms me.

The day before Valentine’s Day, I wrote this one:


February Ferns

Slow month of lace and hearts
shivers through the single’s soul,
and the not-so-funny Valentine
is buried in the cold.

Deep in each lover’s heart,
down to the softest depths,
are wounds that will not heal
and promises not kept.

But somewhere down the lane,
through the black and barren trees,
curling up beneath the brown,
lies a shimmering of green.


I played with the words and the rhymes for more than two hours. I could have been working on the book, but for that night, at least, it seemed important to write that poem —to get the words out of my head and onto the page. It’s not like it had to rhyme—I’ve written plenty of poetry that doesn’t—but once I had the first stanza, I realized it was meant to rhyme.

Another poem of mine, a fragment of a poem, since it was never finished, became a way to show the yearning and secret life of a young character in our book, Twinless.

Lauren writes in her notebook:

My siren song of longing

            slides not across the sea,

            but whistles through the heavens,

            collects color from the stars…

Poetry helps to break the ice, so to speak, when you know you want to write something, but you don’t know what it should be. So you start putting down what you do know, in short, sharp phrases, searching for unique words, active verbs or a twisty phrase.

Don’t think of poetry as a waste of your writing time. It might be the best way to capture an important memory, get past your heartache or ease into an important scene. It may also be the shortest way to leap all over that blank page.

Go ahead—open that window. See what jumps in.


  1. Rosemary Boyd says:

    Great story and know Ohio has had a very cold winter this year . I left in January and have enjoyed the weather in Florida. It was between 70 and 80′s all the time I was here . Will be back in April and hope the weather is warmer.

  2. Pamela says:

    Thanks, Mother! I’m hoping April will be warmer, also, but excited to be seeing you in Naples soon and feeling 70 and 80 degrees again.
    We are covered in snow again here and it is not fun.
    See you soon!

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