Friday, April 13, 2012

Writing Superstitions

As part of the celebration of National Poetry Month, Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit created a blog tour and giveaway. Today I am lucky enough to be hosting a stop on the tour -- and I hope you'll go visit all the stops on this tour so you can feel replete with poetry this month. There's been a great variety of topics and interests covered so far, and we still have half a month to go!

Well, seeing as today is Friday the 13th, I thought I'd talk a little about superstitions. How do superstitions show up in poems? Do poets have their own superstitions about writing?

I'll begin by sharing a poem which I found at the Poetry Foundation. In it, a Romanian poet alludes to the way people create superstitions by attaching meaning and causal relationships to odd or unconnected events. His is a personal superstition, attached to that much maligned creature, the house cat.


My cat washes
with her left paw,
there will be another war.

For I have observed
that whenever she washes
with her left paw
international tension grows

How can she possibly keep her eye
on all the five continents?
Could it be
that in her pupils
that Pythia now resides
who has the power
to predict
the whole of history
without a full-stop or comma?

It’s enough to make me howl
when I think that I
and the Heaven with its souls I have
in the last resort
on the whims of a cat.

Go and catch mice,
don’t unleash
more world wars,

~Marin Sorescu

“Superstition” from Selected Poems by Marin Sorescu, translated by Michael Hamburger. Published in 1983 by Bloodaxe Books.

Another poet's attempt to do the same thing, incorporating existing superstition and exploring linkages to develop new ones, is "Superstitions" by Malcolm Glass. I found that both of these poems illuminate the mindset of the wary, of those who are inclined to find meaning everywhere, and hope to ward off danger through random practices.

But more than just writing about superstitions, poets and writers often hold to many writing rituals that they are superstitious about breaking for fear of affecting their ability to produce any writing at all. I recently read an amusing article about the particular conditions a young writer feels he needs in order to create. He states that he wishes he had some cool superstitions such as “I drink two cups of lemon juice with lunch,” or “I channel the ancient goddess Sekhmet over cereal,” but unfortunately his are more mundane, like using a particular font for each kind of writing that he does. I have a few of my own, like only using purple ink to write first drafts longhand. Strange but hard to break away from! Do you have your own?

I'll finish off this brief look at the superstitions in and around poetry with a comment on the idea itself -- in a wonderful article about using superstition in writing, Aimee Nezhukumatathil states:

Some may regard it as a curious relic dating from less scientifically advanced times when people sought explanations for the apparently random workings and spinnings of nature. To others, superstition is an integral and constantly shifting part of the richness of culture in an increasingly secular world.

She goes on to say that superstition can be incorporated in a poem to create a sense of universal truth around the unexplainable. This article is a must-read for those who write poetry, and it concludes with some writing prompts. So if you are up to it, try using one of her superstition prompts to write a piece of poetry this month...and share with us if you are so inclined!

Well, I'd better go and keep my black cat from walking under a ladder and knocking the mirror off the wall. Thanks for stopping by to peruse today's post!


  1. I really enjoyed this and the variety of sources and poems you highlighted. I've always been fond of superstitions whether writing or reading them in poems.

    One of my "habits" is to always write poetry long hand first even if I have an idea while at the computer. I fear it will not be as good if I write it in Word.

  2. What inviting verses; I wholly enjoyed reading them. I hope you redirected that cat around the ladder in the nick of time.

    (I was just reading yesterday that Lionel Shriver writes standing up; I'm thinking of trying that!)

  3. Serena - I'm glad you enjoyed... and thanks for your continual celebration of poetry! I find it difficult to compose on the computer as well -- hence the purple longhand!

    BIP - I liked both these poems quite a lot. I myself have never tried writing standing up. I incline more towards the Proustian method...fully reclined, preferably in bed ;) Do you know about the "tread desk"?

  4. I love the writing of Marin Sorescu, here's a favourite one of mine.


    Shakespeare created the world in seven days.

    On the first say he made the heavens, the mountains,
    and the abyss of the soul.
    On the second day he made rivers, seas, oceans
    And all the other feelings—
    Giving them to Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony,
    Cleopatra and Ophelia,
    Othello and the rest, to master them, and their descendants
    For evermore.
    On the third day he brought the people together
    And taught them about taste
    The taste of happiness, of love, of despair
    The taste of jealousy, of glory, and still more tastes
    Until they went through them all.

    Then some latecomers arrived.
    The creator patted them sadly on the head
    Explaining the remaining roles were for
    Literary critics
    To challenge his good works.

    The fourth and fifth days he kept clear for laughs
    Clearing way for clowns
    Turning somersaults,
    And leaving the kings, emperors,
    And other poor wretches to their fun.
    The sixth day he reserved for administrative tasks:
    He let loose a tempest
    And taught King Lear
    To wear a crown of straw.

    Some spare parts remained from the world’s creation
    And so he made Richard III.
    On the seventh day he looked about for something to do.
    Theatre directors had plastered the land with posters
    And Shakespeare decided after all his hard work
    He deserved to see a show. but first,

    tired down to the bone
    He went off to die a little.

  5. Excellent post! I don't think I have any writing superstitions--although I must admit I was just a bit wary about posting on Friday the 13th (but I did anyway). And I do sometimes say, or write, "knock on wood".


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