Nick Olah: “Be observant by keeping your eyes and ears open”

Be observant by keeping your eyes and ears open; you never know when inspiration might strike. One day I was at work and heard an employee talking to an angry customer on the phone. I heard our employee say, “Let’s forget everything that has happened up until now.” Not only did I think it was […]

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Be observant by keeping your eyes and ears open; you never know when inspiration might strike. One day I was at work and heard an employee talking to an angry customer on the phone. I heard our employee say, “Let’s forget everything that has happened up until now.” Not only did I think it was a wonderful way to defuse a volatile situation, but because of the way my brain is wired, I also thought it sounded like the beginning of a poem. I went home that night and wrote one. The last thing I thought I would get at work was inspiration for a new piece but you just never know!

Poetry is growing in popularity and millions of people spanning the globe have a renewed passion for embracing the creativity, beauty, and art of poetry. Poetry has the power to heal and we make sense of the world through the human expression of writing and reading. Are you wondering: What does it take to become a successful poet? What is the best medium and venue to release your poetry? What are some techniques to improve or sharpen your skills? In this interview series about how to write powerful and evocative poetry, we are interviewing people who have a love for poetry and want to share their insights, and we will speak with emerging poets who want to learn more about poetry either to improve their own skills or learn how to read and interpret better. Here, we will also meet rising and successful poets who want to share their work or broaden their audience, as well as poetry and literature instructors.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Olah.

Nicholas Olah draws on his love of nature and photography as his main inspirations for writing. He loves walking around in his neighborhood in the Chicago suburbs and watching the colors change during each of the four distinct Midwest seasons. He has self-published two books, Where Light Separates from Dark and Which Way is North. When he is not writing, Nicholas enjoys spending time with his family and friends, traveling and rooting on his Chicago sports teams. Check out Nicholas’s work at www.nicholasolah.com.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about what first drew you to poetry?

I took a poetry course at Benedictine University led by Dr. Elizabeth Kubek in the spring of 2002, and fell in love with the “no rules” approach to writing that poetry affords. I didn’t start getting more serious about it until 5–6 years ago, and self-published my first book in 2018 and another in 2020 as I had plenty of time to write during quarantine as I attempted, like many, to make the most of that time.

Can you tell us a bit about the interesting or exciting projects you are working on or wish to create? What are your goals for these projects?

In April 2020 I started a poetry account on Instagram and the love has been mutual between myself and the community of writers I found there. Presently I have 1,200+ followers. On Instagram I am a regular contributor, participate in poetry prompts and am also a proud member of the First Line Poets Project, which pairs two writers together on a biweekly basis. The writers exchange first lines and then each writers completes a poem based on their partner’s first line. I also do Instagram Lives with fellow poets where we read our own work as well as some favorite pieces from our peers. These are ways to keep me writing while also challenging myself.

Wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. What is your definition of poetry? Can you please share with us what poetry means to you?

Poetry to me is an art form. It’s akin to a painter taking a brush to the canvas. It’s therapeutic, open for interpretation, and as I mentioned earlier, there are no rules in poetry. You can write two lines or 50, you can format a poem a million different ways; if you write something down and call it poetry, it’s poetry regardless of what anyone else says and there’s so much power in that.

What can writing poetry teach us about ourselves?

Through writing you can discover emotions that maybe you didn’t know you had hiding in you. Furthermore, you learn that you can surprise yourself. Many writers, myself included, think they have limits on what their writing can accomplish and then they top themselves by pulling something out that they didn’t know was there, and that’s so special.

Who are your favorite poets? Is it their style, the content or something else that resonates with you?

Mary Oliver is my favorite. A lot of the feedback I receive around my poetry is the striking imagery and that’s what Mary was also known for, in part. She was also highly influenced, as I am, by nature, which is a major theme in my books and a large percentage of what I write. So I absolutely consider her an icon and an inspiration.

If you could ask your favourite poet a question, what would it be?

Probably something about their editing process. Often, the time I spend editing the formatting of a poem is considerably longer than the time it took to write it., but it’s also that much more rewarding when you can call it done.

Poetry can be transformational. Is there a particular poem that spoke to you and changed your life or altered a perspective you held in some way? Can you share the story? I wouldn’t say a particular poem shaped my life but I really enjoy Oliver’s “Robert Schumann.” That one stuck with me; specifically where she says, “And now I understand something so frightening, and wonderful — how the mind clings to the road it knows, rushing through crossroads, sticking like lint to the familiar.” What a metaphor for so many things in life!

Today’s world needs so much healing. Can you help articulate how poetry can help us heal?

Poetry is raw emotion come to life on paper. Not only can it heal the writer but it can do the same for his or her audience. When someone tells me they can relate to my words, that’s huge. That means I might be helping someone understand a situation in a different light and helping to make them feel less alone with whatever they are going through. And for that reason, specifically on Instagram, many of my fellow poets and I have become friends outside of the poetry community which I love.

We’d like to learn more about your poetry and writing. How would you describe yourself as a poet? Can you please share a specific passage that you think exemplifies your style or main message?

My poetry is very heavy at times; that is to say, deeply emotional and all of that comes from a real place. I also use imagery and/or metaphors in a high majority of my work.

Here’s a short piece titled, “Rest” from my second book, Which Way is North, published in 2020:

take me to where I can rest
under the cold light of
dimming stars

leave me there with my thoughts
and nothing else

What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

I write for myself and whatever I choose to share with the world is there for anyone who wants it or needs it, and if people find enjoyment from reading me, I’m flattered every time like it’s the first time. As well, if a reader pulls out a certain emotion that they can relate to in some way or that helps them see a path forward in their journey, that’s a bonus.

In your opinion and from your experience, what are 3 things everyone can learn from poetry?

Poetry can make you feel emotions you didn’t even know you needed to feel. Reading others’ work can be incredibly healing as you learm others are dealing with the same emotions you are. It also teaches self-awareness — you can learn through your own writing that you are feeling something you hadn’t yet reconciled with yourself, and putting it on paper can be extremely cathartic. Thirdly, in a more tangible sense, you can learn different ways of doing things. New formatting techniques to try, new self-prompts for when you’re stuck, etc.

Based on your own experience and success, what are the “five things a poet needs to know to create beautiful and evocative poetry?” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Read poetry from any and all generations to continuously feed your soul and let yourself be inspired.

Be observant by keeping your eyes and ears open; you never know when inspiration might strike. One day I was at work and heard an employee talking to an angry customer on the phone. I heard our employee say, “Let’s forget everything that has happened up until now.” Not only did I think it was a wonderful way to defuse a volatile situation, but because of the way my brain is wired, I also thought it sounded like the beginning of a poem. I went home that night and wrote one. The last thing I thought I would get at work was inspiration for a new piece but you just never know!

Don’t tie yourself to one way of formatting. Delve outside of your comfort zone by challenging yourself with haikus, nonets, villanelles or other poetic forms. You may find you enjoy it. I didn’t write my first nonet until early 2021 and while it was by no means perfect, it was a fun challenge and something I plan to do more of. Open mics (in person or virtual) are another fun way to challenge yourself. I find poetry often reveals fresh emotions and reactions when heard aloud versus when read silently.

Join a poetry community on whichever social media network you like. Joining a community can be incredibly uplifting. I find that authors tend to be supportive of each other on social media as we all fight the same battles with trying to get noticed and published.

Always be prepared to write. I personally use the Notes app on my iPhone for what I call my “scraps” page. I always have it with me to jot down ideas when they strike. Never get yourself in a situation where an idea pops into your head and then right back out because you aren’t able to jot it down. By using my phone, I’m able to quickly type my idea out whether I’m lying in bed, shopping for groceries or out for a walk in my neighborhood.

If you were to encourage others to write poetry, what would you tell them?

If it was someone who was just getting started, I would encourage them to write down everything, even if they don’t think it’s good. Often times I jot down ideas that I don’t feel great about or think can develop into something bigger, but more times than not, they do. Something you think may not be a great starting point ends up turning into that. And then I would encourage getting involved with other writers, whether that’s through social media, open mic nights, etc.

How would you finish these three sentences:

Poetry teaches… patience, self-awareness, openness, raw honesty and experimentation.

Poetry heals by… letting other people’s words and experiences inside to help heal you. So many times I read a poet’s work and the first word that comes to mind is, “relatable.” We are all in the human experience together, all going through the spectrum of emotions, so why not let others help us through? It’s like the Ram Dass quote: “We’re all just walking each other home.”

To be a poet, you need to… let your imagination run freely and be prepared to jot words down the moment they pop into your head.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Entertainment , Business, VC funding, and Sports read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

Ha, well for this I would probably go outside of writing and try to meet one of the heroes from my youth, former Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg or musician Dave Grohl.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can visit my website or find me on Instagram at @nick.olah.poetry.

Thank you for these excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent. We wish you continued success.

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