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Confidence, Poetry and Life: Sage Cohen, Living the Life Poetic

An interview with writer Sage Cohen about her new book: Writing the Life Poetic

Do you think a lack of confidence gets in the way of people trying their hand at poetry?

Absolutely! I think this is the number one reason people don’t try poetry. While working with writers for the past fifteen years, I have observed that even the most creative people fear that they don’t have what it takes to write and read poetry.

I wrote Writing the Life Poetic to put poetry back into the hands of the people––not because they are aspiring to become the poet laureate of the United States––but because poetry is one of the great pleasures in life.

As I see it, FUN is the best way to move through lack of confidence.

That’s why every exercise, insight, craft tip and content prompt I chose was designed to invite readers to have fun tuning into the poetry of their lives—and getting it down on the page.

How can the practice of poetry help us to become more confident in our writing?

Poetry attunes us to the vast possibilities of language. We learn to discern whether to choose the word wait, abide or endure to reflect the right shade of meaning, the best rhythm and sound…

We learn how to listen to light and that loneliness has a taste. We learn that to name things right is its own kind of ecstasy. And when we hit the sweet spot-finding just the right word or phrase or metaphor or image-we gain confidence that there will be more of such discoveries available to us when we practice tuning in.

In effect, the more we write, the more confident we become.

Can you see ways that poetry can help build confidence not just in writing, but in life?

The practice of poetry teaches us to pay attention. It invites us to observe, feel into and consider our lives—and our world. This benefits us and it benefits our writing because we don’t just see things as they are—we see them as we are.

Poetry can help us give voice to feelings and ideas that feel too risky and complicated to speak out loud.

There is a kind of alchemy in writing through such vulnerabilities…by welcoming them in language, we can transform the energies of fear, pain and loneliness into a kind of friendly camaraderie with ourselves. In effect, we can write ourselves into the confidence that we have what it takes to make sense of and survive the challenges that life inevitably presents us with.

My invitation to you: The next time you feel discomfort, poetry can help you find someplace to go with it. Next time you feel the itch, let poetry help you scratch it. Next time you experience impatience, you can transform it into interest through the lens of a poem. Next time you feel anger, you can dig deeper and find the awe underneath. This is the gift of poetry. You can write yourself where you need to go.

What advice would you give someone who was interested in writing some poetry, but didn’t have the confidence to start?

I believe that every one of us has a swarm of poems flitting around our heads at this very moment, waiting to land. They’re trying to figure out how to penetrate our I-don’t-know-how force field. A really useful place to start a poem is with freewriting-because freewriting dives under our thinking into the ideas streaming below where we’re stuck or judging or lacking in confidence. It taps us right into the source of what is alive in us.

Put your pen to paper and keep it moving for ten minutes without stopping. Then put your notebook away without looking at it.

The next day, pick up your freewriting and underline every word or phrase that looks interesting or surprising to you. Choose one, and write that down as your first line. Maybe you want to also include a few other phrases from your freewriting too…

Let the poem unfold from there and be willing to go where the language takes you.


Finally, seeing as how we couldn’t have a post on poetry without a poem, here’s one of Sage’s.

Leaving Buckhorn Springs

By Sage Cohen

The farmland was an orchestra,
its ochres holding a baritone below
the soft bells of farmhouses,
altos of shadowed hills,
violins grieving the late
afternoon light. When I saw
the horses, glazed over with rain,
the battered old motorcycle parked
beside them, I pulled my car over
and silenced it on the gravel.
The rain and I were diamonds
displacing appetite with mystery.
As the horses turned toward me,
the centuries poured through
their powerful necks and my body
was the drum receiving the pulse
of history. The skin between me
and the world became the rhythm
of the rain keeping time with the sky
and into the music walked
the smallest of the horses. We stood
for many measures considering
each other, his eyes the quarter notes
of my heart’s staccato. This symphony
of privacy and silence: this wildness
that the fence between us could not divide.

About Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry(Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World.
An award-winning poet, she writes four monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4.

Sage co-curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People.

To learn more, visit Drop by and join in the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at

Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Paperback)
by Sage Cohen

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  1. Matt Hayward says:

    Great interview, Joanna.

    What a great insight you’ve allowed us to have into poetry and how it can help confidence!

    Poetry is, I always say, the one thing I have difficulty in writing. Following this interview, I have to admit I do feel more confident - and willing - to dabble into the art again. For the first time since school.

    So, thank you Joanna and thank you Sage.


    Matt Haywards last blog post..A Break Can Be A Good Thing

  2. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Matt, hi, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about poetry, including me. I have also found myself scribbling lines of poems again for the first time in a long time after hearing Sage’s call to the ‘life poetic’. Actually there is an interesting folllow on for me from the post about not being a writer. I’m much happier to think about living my life through creativity and poetry than I am sitting down and writing it ;-)

  3. Matt Hayward says:

    Yeah, definitely. I’ve got that itch to give it a try again; will probably give it a go after the weekend when I won’t be so busy. Should be an interesting little endeavour, that’s for sure.

    Keep an eye out on my blog for an update on how that goes for me come Monday or Tuesday.


    Matt Haywards last blog post..The Purpose of a RolePlay Post

  4. Ulla Hennig
    Twitter: ullahe

    I think poetry for me as someone who writes in his second language is an enormous challenge. I always think that every single word has to fit, every single word counts. Working with a dictionary is one thing - but I think also a lot of reading has to be done, too - and poems up to now didn’t exist on my reading list. I think I’ll change that.

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..Django Reinhardt

  5. Janice Cartier says:

    I love both the interview and the concept. Poetry is all around us. Anyone who’s had the pleasure of Dr. Suess or enjoyed the beat on the street that is a whole music genre now can access poetry… it is another bridge another invitation to expression and to pleasure of experience…Confidence? Put your hand on your heartbeat, or listen to the rain…tilt your ear toward some traffic, or ride a streetcar, that rattles down the street….Walk down to the ferry, watch the waves lap the shore, listen to the gulls, water lapping at our feet…it’s all around us, poetry is. Listen to the beat.
    Imperfect and impromptu… go on give it a try.
    You’ve brought us such gifts, Joanna, they are like flowers in the spring….or a good scotch on some ice….Hope your weekend is absolutely great. These were wonderful posts.

    Janice Cartiers last blog post..Welcome to Private Studio

  6. Robert Hruzek says:

    I’ve never thought of myself as particularly poetic - although life throws an occasional poetic moment my way every now and then. I used to be pretty good at stringing a quartet together just for the fun of it, but not for awhile now…

    These days, when I clear my mental throat and attempt poetry, it just ends up coming out as nothing but verbose ramblings. Ah well…

    Robert Hruzeks last blog post..Paths and Boundaries

  7. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Matt will do :-)

    Ulla I can see that, yet you have still managed to write and publish poetry on your blog. I think that’s fantastic. yes, every word has to count… that’s the beauty of it :-) I’m finding myself reading poetry as well as writing it too at the moment… i think that’s part of living the life poetic!

    Jan, one of the things I have learned from you is living, breathing, smelling poetry all round about you.

    “Put your hand on your heartbeat, or listen to the rain…tilt your ear toward some traffic, or ride a streetcar, that rattles down the street….Walk down to the ferry, watch the waves lap the shore, listen to the gulls, water lapping at our feet…it’s all around us, poetry is. Listen to the beat.”

    Fantastic… thanks

    Robert I think we do tend to wax and wane around poetic writings… you know sometimes I see you write very poetic things in the comment boxes of blogs… thoughtful, creative, expressive, short, full of rhythm and emotion. Just sayin’ ;-)

  8. Robert Hruzek says:

    Really? Which ones would those be - I’ll have to collect ‘em in a book! :-D

    Robert Hruzeks last blog post..Paths and Boundaries

  9. Steve Sherlock says:

    Joanna, thanks for introducing Sage to us. She is a kindred spirit! As I think you have heard me say be, anyone who can tweet can write poetry!

    Steve Sherlocks last blog post..these buds

  10. Sage Cohen says:

    Thanks SO much for having me here, Joanna!

    What a thrill it is to hear that poetry is feeling more possible-and more fun-for some of you! Feel free to drop me a line any time and let me know where your creative journey is taking you!

    Sage Cohens last blog post..Embracing the uncomfortable

  11. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora Joanna

    I was introduced to the idea of writing poetry almost 20 years ago when I attended a stress management course. I found that writing poetry (when I eventually put pen to paper!) did all sorts of things that were helpful.

    It made me think about the writing I had been doing (not poetry) up till then - I wrote scientific articles, factual manuals for computer training, notes for student use.

    It gave me a greater interest in words and the way they work together.

    It helped me to develop my imagination and to use it when writing.

    It made me aware of what I liked and didn’t like about what others write. You could say it gave me discernment about what I chose to read.

    Stress? Yes helped relieve that too.

    Catchya later

    Ken Allans last blog post..Technology Competency & 21st Century Learners

  12. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Steve I know you would also support the view that poetry is a way of looking at, paying attention to and experiencing the world…I’m not quite sure that being able to tweet on its own is enough to enable you to start writing poetry though!

    Sage thanks so much for sharing your ideas and approach - as you can see it has struck a chord with many of us

    Ken that’s fascinating - I’ve never heard of poetry being taught as an approach to relieving stress, although I guess many of us learn to use it that way. Thanks for sharing another part of your journey :-)

  13. Ken Allan says:

    Thanks Joanna

    a propo stress release - I found this particularly amazing. The practice of writing poetry as a stress release goes way back. John Donne wrote, “He tames it who fetters it in verse”, meaning the writer fetters the anxt (stress) by writing verse about it.

    I used to (and still do) just sit down and write for 5 to 10 minutes at a time, aimlessly. I keep it all in note books - dated, seldom on scraps of paper. This means I can chronologically refer back to these at any time - very useful.

    Here’s one of the first I wrote when I tried this. I recall the time well. I’d just got home from work. It would have been late autumn 1990 or 1991 and with daylight saving, our dining room was still in sunshine. We had just experienced a beautiful autumn day:


    You would not have found a wisp of cloud
    if you had searched the blue for an hour.

    It was as if it would never end,
    as if it had always been like this,
    the air, still, boundless
    on a peerless day.

    That dazzling singleton
    spangled on everything,
    and the sky bore down heavily
    like a vast crystal bonnet.

    Tiny silhouettes of gulls
    circled endlessly in the crown
    and the rim tapered out
    to a pale haze near cut edges.

    A timeless day,
    the air, clear, soundless
    as if it had always been like this,
    as if it would never end.

    If you had searched the blue for an hour
    you would not have found a wisp of cloud.


    Catchya later

    Ken Allans last blog post..Technology Competency & 21st Century Learners

  14. Janice Cartier says:

    That is beautiful. Truly.

  15. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Ken thank you so much for sharing this. I was just blown away when I read it. The words are so beautiful, the moment so perfectly captured and expressed. It means a great deal to me that you would chose to share it here.

  16. Sage Cohen says:

    the rim tapered out
    to a pale haze near cut edges.


    Sage Cohens last blog post..Embracing the uncomfortable

  17. wilson says:

    WoW, Sage definitely have the gift in this poetry stuff, Joanna. Talking about poetry, I’m a little bit of clumsy and find it hard to get all the words together into one beautiful piece as Sage did! LOl

    In this condition, I might just passed this one to the experts… :)

  18. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    wilson well I think you express yourself very well… I bet one day you find yourself writing a poem or two. Sometimes it happens when we have very strong emotions (positive or negative ones), you might just finding yourself reaching for pen and paper and writing a verse or two…

  19. Cath Lawson says:

    Hi Sage and Joanna - Thanks for the great interview. I’m going to give this a try. I used to like writing poetry and I think it’s definitely a confidence issue that’s stopping me. I got stuck with the novel I’m trying to write for months and eventually realised that was down to lack of confidence.

  20. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora Wilson

    You’re right about Sage. I couldn’t have chosen the words better myself.

    Ha ha :-) .

    @ Everyone-

    Thanks for the accolades - but that’s not what I was fishing for.
    The fact is, I could well have filled up Joanna’s comments with a whole lot of junk that I wrote on other occasions but you wouldn’t have enjoyed that much at all.

    The point is, it works, and as a stress relief, it definitely works. But the main thing that works for me is writing lots - every day if possible and it doesn’t have to be much.

    For instance, Bud the Teacher has been running a poetry series all this month and me and a few others have dutifully written something there every day. This is what I’d call walking the talk (or writing the talk). Just check it out.

    Catchya later

    Ken Allans last blog post..Technology Competency & 21st Century Learners

  21. Davina says:

    Hi Joanna and Sage. This was an insightful interview. I have found the free flow writing does help a person write a poem.

    Last week I wrote in my journal about my thoughts screaming in my head and decided to write a poem from it. I compared the screaming thoughts to seagulls circling and trying to survive at my own demise. I published it on my blog and it is called Flock of Thoughts. It is part of my Morning Muse series.

    Sage Cohen is a poetic name in itself. And that was a terrific poem. I noticed how you “chose” the “right” words to carry the musical theme throughout. Brilliant! A wordsmith at work.

    Thanks for sharing this and Sage, Joanna.

    Davinas last blog post..Letter from a Proofreader with Edits

  22. Joanna
    Twitter: joannapaterson

    Cath hi, glad you enjoyed it… and glad to hear you’re thinking you might give poetry writing a try again. Me too. It feels right for some reason.

    Ken I didn’t think you were fishing for accolades, but the power of the words you’d written at the end of a busy day were for me quite… well I think shocking is actually the word, that these lines, rhythms, patterns, ways of seeing things are in you (in us) all the time, and there are things we can do to get them out. Including writing some each day. I’ll try - maybe not each day, but each week, yes I thinnk so.

    Davina I’m glad you enjoyed the interview… it’s really got my mind buzzing and I’m pleased that it’s struck a chord with others too. Thanks for telling us about the poem.. I went over to read it and am very impressed - not least that you publish poems on your blog, something I’ve never (yet) had the confidence to do…

  23. Davina says:

    Hi Joanna.
    Hey, thanks for popping over to read the poem. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m surprised you haven’t published a poem on your blog yet. You would seem like a natural “person who writes” :-) to do this. I’d love to read one when you write it.

    Davinas last blog post..Letter from a Proofreader with Edits

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