Commentary on “Ars Poetica Op. 12 No. 4”

I hope you enjoyed the poem I posted the other day. That poem has had a few different lives before I posted it, I’m certain it will have more, but I thought I could give some history and comment on a few different things I was trying.

History of the Poem

Four or five years ago I was taking a creative non-fiction class and I was awful. Every word I wrote was the wrong word. I tried writing a concert review, I tried a personal essay about my family, I tried journaling, I tried myriad articles. Every word I wrote was wrong. So, I stopped writing for a bit and tried reading. I picked up a collection of Ray Bradbury* short stories (“The October Country” I believe) and read his introduction which talked about his writing habits. His big thing was using lists of words until he was inspired. The intro showed one of his lists and was such a contrived list, every other word listed was a key word to one of his famous short stories. I was irritated so I started a stream of conscience of why I hated writing and reading. When I finished I turned it into my professor and his eyes lit up: “Tommy, most of this is garbage but these last two paragraphs are amazing.”

I got a decent enough grade in the class, I don’t remember because grades matter less and less every passing year. But, I always remembered those two paragraphs.

About a year ago I started reading prose poems, particularly the works of John Gallaher (his most recent book length poem “In a Landscape” has been ringing in my mind since I finished it over the Christmas holiday) and I returned to those two paragraphs I wrote in college. They had some poetic value so I thought they’d make an okay prose poem. They didn’t. But, I tried them on as a more traditional free verse and liked it well enough.


“Ars Poetica” is Latin for “The Art of Poetry.” When somebody writes an Ars Poetica they’re writing about why they write poetry. “Op. 12 No. 4” is short for Opus 12 Number 4, a classical musical identification. The “12” is arbitrary but I went through about four drafts before I was comfortable with the poem.

Combining the two was my way of saying this is what it’s like and how it feels when I’m playing music or writing.

First Stanza

I toyed with the idea of beginning the poem with “This is what those fingers” but that felt formal and rigid. Starting with “And” gives the sense that something was going on before – mabye another poem or the rest of the song.

Often I’m not 100% lucid when grooving hard or on a roll writing. In the midst of creating it’s easy to forget it’s my fingers making the music or writing the words and I have to remind myself that I’m the one doing it.

Third Stanza

and dream of that first golden day of summer.
“Tomorrow will be like this,”
They whispered to no one.

We want tomorrow to be like today, but forcing that dulls today and ruins tomorrow. If a child went out to the same field on the second day of summer and step-by-step and word-for-word did the exact same thing as the first day of summer it would not be magical and it would strip yesterday of it’s wonder. If I ever try to recreate an improvised piece on the piano it looses it’s lustre. Nostalgia kills wonder.

The last line didn’t always read so lonely. Initially, it was the tooth-achingly sweet image of a child lying his head on the pillow after a perfect day and whispering aloud to himself. It is that but it’s also so lonely. Anyways, every time I finish a poem I think, “That was it. That was the last poem I had in me. And nobody is ever going to read it.” The rush of writing is over and to what end? Who even cares? Who’s going to read it? What’s the point?

*Frank, it’s funny you mentioned Bradbury in your comment on the poem. Back in college when I orignally wrote these words I was reading a lot of Bradbury. This poem shares some DNA with one of the opening scenes in “Dandelion Wine.” I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not, but it’s definitly there.

Commentary on “Ars Poetica Op. 12 No. 4”