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The reason my poems are called “Life-Built Poems” is because I use everything I encounter as a “foundation” to construct them – any idea, any feeling, any life event or change can end up as a poem.  The “materials” list for poetry construction includes tears, joy, rage and every emotion your heart and body can feel as well as every thought your mind can think, no matter how “politically incorrect” or whatever the latest bugaboo thing the Mind Police has promulgated.  You can throw in every laugh and every sob and every pensive moment.

You reach for freedom when you pick up that pen.    It’s one other way to access your Inner Smarty-Pants…one that doesn’t require turning your body into a pretzel or trying a bunch of confusing esoteric stuff that’s apparently designed to turn you into a space cadet first.

I’m a Baby Boomer.  When I wrote this poem, it seemed to me that there is a whole lot of denial going ’round.  I don’t know if it’s our so-called “youth-oriented” culture, or what it is.  I do know that Old is not a popular thing.  (Oh, it’s okay and well and good if the friend you’ve had since kindergarten is getting more ditzy every time you see her and is showing a bunch of wear and tear.  But, really, old is NOT you.  Right.)

This whole denial thing bothered me and maybe that’s why this poem happened.  When I read it at a Maui Live Poets gathering, every one of my contemporaries smiled or laughed out loud, probably in recognition (or at least in acknowledgment).  I suppose the young ones smirked.  (Of course, this whole age thing is never going to happen to them….)


 It’s a popular fiction now

To pretend that our grandparents’ “old”

Is the new “middle age,”

That, somehow, “young” is really third prize.

(The young ones snicker quietly

At our loudly-espoused contentions.

They roll their eyes

At the silly masks we hide behind.)


Me, I’ll go with a radical confession instead.

I’m going to say it out loud:



Your polite refutations and objections won’t change this verity.

This is not an invitation for you

To grab a big eraser and wipe away my real….

As if it’s some erasable purple ink

Writ large on a whiteboard.



And, yeah, I do know

Time is not on my side.

The indignities of age press in.


But, there are compensations, ya know.

The book of days I carry with me is heavy

With memories of people loved and deeds done and done,

Of dreams fulfilled and fantasies exposed,

Of critical lessons learned and learned again,

Just one more artifact in the museum of my life.


And, still, somewhere in all of that

There’s the silly little girl in the bright red pointy shoes.

She’s still dancin’,

And, still, she makes me laugh!

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Old People Sign by Richard Riley via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

So, hey, what are you thinking?  What are you feeling?  Why not go ask your Inner Smarty-Pants?

Thanks for you for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below.


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Everybody says it.  It’s probably even true:  “Writers write.”  They write because they can’t NOT write.  The whole not-writing thing is unsatisfactory.  They feel unsettled if they don’t capture the thoughts they think somehow….

And the best thing about writing, of course, is having written.  Then you can go do other things.

So…you want to be a Writer?  Write.  Every day.  Write.  You don’t have to use high-falutin’ words.  You can make lists.  You can make notes to yourself or to somebody else.  You can look at the world around you and check out what everybody else is doing, and then you can write.  You can unpack your head and look at all the stuff seething in there and then…write.

I’ll let you in on a little secret:  If you’re a poet, you don’t even have to be grammatical.  You just have to make sense and that’s a way bigger thing than grammar.

You don’t need special equipment.  You don’t need the latest and greatest technology.  Writing’s been around for about as long as Jane in the Jungle needed to leave a message for her Georgie.  You have to know that all she had was a stick and some dirt, probably.

So…what are you waiting for, Writer?  Write.

Here’s another poem….


Words are doorways into worlds, you know.

They can kidnap people and plunk them down

Into strange and different,

Where nothing is as you thought it was

And nobody knows your name.


It can get really scary, you know,

And, mostly, people fight against

This violation of the how-they-see-it

With other words as shields and spears and swords,

Making declarations, explanations

Reinforcing walls they already have.


And that only makes more words.

Nobody gets anywhere

When the words fly around like those little gnats

That swarm around bare lightbulbs.

The words get blasted by the heat

And they litter the light fixture covers

Like piles of dead soldiers.


But, did you know this?

If you grab onto the words

And wrestle them into neat and concise formations,

You can make bridges that take you

Over the gap between one world and the next.

Sometimes, people will come and cross over.


And then you’ve got a playmate.

And that’s a very good thing.

By Netta Kanoho

photo credit:  Kathryn Decker [CC BY 2.0]

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I am one of those poets Life built:  I have no “creds” as a poet, but I do know that making a certain type of poem helped me keep my head straight through a number of karmic dust storms that blew away the world as I knew and liked it.

I guess you could call it home-grown, dirt-cheap psychotherapy.  All you really need to do it is paper, a pencil or a pen, and an awareness of the need to mend the broken circle of your life.

The act of sitting down and writing out what is in your head and your heart does take practice.

There are all kinds of books that can tell you HOW to write.  Ignore them.  Just sit down and line up the words as they rise up.  Take dictation from yourself.  Go until the flow of words stops or until you are starting to repeat yourself.

Put the words away for a while, then go back to them.  Find the ones that ring truest for you about the situation you’re thinking on.  Put them together until they sound right to you, until they dance, and they show you how you are feeling.

When you’ve done all that, you will have a poem and, for you, it will have power.

Read it out loud and think on it.  Maybe you’ll find something in it that starts another round of writing and another poem.  Maybe you will be able to see what action you can take to resolve some impasse, connect with someone, or just clear up the confusion you are feeling about something.

It occurred to me that at some point every one of us needs a way to get our heads back together. Poetry is a powerful way to do that.

The Sufi mystic and poet, Melvani Rumi wrote, seven centuries ago, “Don’t be satisfied with the stories that come before you; unfold your own myth.”  That’s what writing life-built poems is:  a concrete way to think on your own story and make your own myth.

The practice and the process of making life-built poems help you untangle the thoughts in your head when life hits you with yet another curve-ball.

If you do it right, you begin to understand how you’re actually feeling about any confusing situation when the thoughts just keep skittering all over the place and morphing into more and more of a tangled mess.

Often if you can just get a handle on all the chaotic feelings and thoughts you are experiencing, you’ll be able to see where you stand in all the turmoil and maybe see the actions you need to take to move gracefully in the direction you want to go.  At least, that’s the way it seemed to work for me.  Maybe it can do the same for you as well….

This poem came to me nine months after the death of my husband Fred.  We had been married for almost 27 years and were having a grand time being symbiotic when he sustained fatal head injuries in a car wreck.

I had always played with poetry for years.  After Fred died, though, I just slogged on through the days for a while.

When I started doing the poetry again, the poems were…different.  They were not just about playing with form any more.


When you died, Ei Nei, I dropped ten pounds.
Our friends said it was the grief.
I joked that you loved my sweet ‘okole so much
You took it with you,
And scandalized their true hearts yet again.
You would’ve laughed and probably agreed.

I don’t tell them — no I don’t —
About the other things you took.

You took your arms,
Corded hard with your strong passions,
That cradled me quiet as I drowsed
That picked me up each time I stumbled,
The peacefulness enfolded in them,
You took that with you.

You took your voice:
The way it resonated through me,
Sending echoes through each cell,
Winding around my heart
And pulling me to you, time and again.
You took that with you.

You bound me to you, then you went away.
You took a lot of things when you left.

You took your mouth:
Your teasing and your laughter,
Your “betcha-can’ts” and “you-better-nots,”
That made me so wild, I’d want to hit you
Until your goofy smile melted me silly.
You took that with you.

You took your eyes:
The fierce tenderness that held me,
Flashing hot at my proud challenge,
Softly glowing and content,
Intoxicating to the core.
You took that with you.

You took a lot when you went.

You took your hands,
Their gentle, solid strength,
Their familiar, clever touch
That reached into the soul of me,
And always drew me in.
You took that with you.

You took your body:
That hunting-cat tightness,
The warm, sweet hardness of you,
Lithe as a serpent, flowing against me,
The heat I craved, my best obsession.
You took that with you.

Ei Nei, I can forgive you taking all of that…
Most of the time, I can.
But, oh, how my tears well up,
Mourning the loss of all the dreams
The two of us flew when we were friends.

You took that with you too.    

[In case you don’t know, ei nei is Hawaiian for “my dear.”  The word ‘okole means “butt.”  Hawaiian musicians Keola and Kapono Beamer had a popular song, “Sweet ‘Okole” about a certain hula dancer of their acquaintance….]

by Netta Kanoho

photo credit:  James Diedrick via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

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