Layers in Poetry

She sits in laundry like a queen,

opinion keen on every scene.

Trois petits mois – allez hop, cancer de sein!

The jolt of the lymph node.

Drama teen of bilious skein

unraveled, stitch of strawberry roan

as playful as her foal still unweaned,

eyes aquiver, tears unshed,

jinks unsatiated.


Oh, dearie, don’t let the critter

fill you with jitter, nor meander

down the dreary pits.

She knelt down and sewed

a star of hope.


Claudia is asking us about multi-layered poetry over at dVerse Poets Pub. How do we build up the colour, texture, meaning of a poem? Poetry is all about allowing multiple truths, multiple meanings to coexist, to shimmer in uncertainty and marvel, but how do we craft that?

baumkuchen 1
German Baumkuchen, the original multilayered poem…


Here’s how I set about it in the example above. I started off with a simple word cloud prompt. I borrowed the first line from a previous poem of mine and formed sound associations for the main wordsor syllables in that line ‘sits’, ‘laun-dry’, ‘queen’. I came up with ‘seeds/fits/situation/jinks/snitch/pit/lit/critter’ and ‘dreary/meander/moan/roan/foal’ and ‘ream/seen/beam/skein/weaning/scene’. I picked the words that most appealed to me and continued to build on them with more conceptual associations this time, but I still had no idea what my ‘poem’ would be about. If there even was a poem lurking somewhere in all this.

A few hours later, I was waiting to board my flight at the airport and I heard three ladies behind me talking about a friend of theirs who had recently died of cancer. That planted the real seed of the poem in my mind and I played around with the words that would fit in with that idea. The first draft was quickly written, but it lacked that conversational tone that had sparked my inspiration. So from sound to content to tone, I hope that finally the poem is a little closer to the confusion, uncertainty, wish for hope that is always present around the C word.

It will need a few more iterations and layers before it’s halfway finished, though…


33 thoughts on “Layers in Poetry”

  1. You’ve really captured that shimmering, elusive line between fear and hope, Marina Sofia. And what a brilliant mix of metaphorical references! Well done!

  2. how very cool how that developed – thanks for sharing the whole process with us marina
    and how you managed to weave it all together… that’s what i really suck at – i cannot explain things properly – i build my layers but it’s all not so well organized and in the end i dunno how i’ve done it – i would be such a miserable teacher – i bet you would be wonderful

    1. You’re such an instinctive poet, Claudia – and painter – no need to explain, just like a bird cannot explain how it flies! For those of us who have to work a little harder at it, though…

  3. I like that idea.. to build layers…. this would work wonders, I did something where I weaved two different stories.. with dialogues and an extended metaphor together.. but I think I would have played even more with the sound aspects. Actually the process of you built it is what I do sometimes. Just listen to the words and let them metamorphose into something gradually, then adding a splash of color here and there…

  4. The process by which you created this is nearly as fascinating as the final result. I still feel the thread running through of motherhood. Being queen of the laundry is not easy. I do the laundry at home, though I treat it like a meditation. Motherhood is not for the faint of heart. Keep that hope stitched tight.

  5. The how and why of this poem are as amazing as the poem itself. The sounds in the last stanza and the last two lines are the icing on the baumkuchen.

  6. There are maternal echoes within the sweetness of puff-pastry & the salty taste of sweat. yes, explication is a prose poem in itself. I love your reply to Claudia’s self-deprecation, for a bird does not, cannot define flight, they are flight. I was once asked, “is there poetry after death?”. My response was “Hell, yes, death is poetry.” I like your line /the jolt of a lymph node/.

  7. I love this!!!

    “She sits in laundry like a queen” This is SO me.

    This is my favorite part:
    “The jolt of the lymph node.
    Drama teen of bilious skein
    unraveled, stitch of strawberry roan”

  8. I love how you explained your layers…. Like C said, I’d also be a miserable teacher… haha. This piece really struck a chord with me… I pretty much do everything since my mom got sick, so I’m the king of the laundry scene amidst the queens, sewing my very star of hope… Great work.

  9. Like kansensakura, I loved the last two lines – a symbol of hope! I’d beg to differ – though I’m a mere philistine – that it’ll need more work before it’s halfway finished…I think you have a very pleasing work already. You’re so talented, Marina, truly!

  10. MarinaSofia, you have the technique of layering down to a science. I enjoyed your poem, and also your explanation! I think we all must find a way to sew our stars of hope out of whatever fate is handed to us.

  11. This poem is a painting and I’m the observer. Looking and taking it all in. Everything else dropped away. You are quite the builder.

      1. You’re quite welcome! I’m loving getting to know everyone through their work. I’m honored! Bless you and thank you!

  12. I really enjoyed the “look under the hood” of the poem. The use of sound and flow whisked me from line to line which made reading and rereading a joy.

    1. I often find myself wishing we had some insight and ‘look under the hood’ for some of the great poems of literature (now dead poets). Then again, maybe it’s better not to lose the mystique. Can you imagine Shakespeare telling us far too many unsavoury details about the ‘Dark Lady’ of the sonnets?

  13. Ah.. yes.. the critter of fear.. is a pesky not so small fritter of life.. but just to twitter it.. without
    knitting a larger story of life.. is not as warm.. on cold day nights..:)

  14. You do put a story together well…and I love the sound of this,, the gentle way you fill us in about cancer and how to treat a negative thing…love it!

  15. I love how you allowed the poem to grow a life of it’s own. It is so interesting to see the different techniques that people have used for this prompt to build layers.

  16. You built the layers so well – and thanks for explaining them. I could see the poem evolving from your thought with very efficient brush strokes.

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