In my culture (the United States), most people are “afraid” of poetry. This is not just my opinion, but the words of critics, the literati, readers who don’t read poetry, and many poets. In some ways this is understandable as much poetry is unintelligible even to literate people. For some reason, some poets write as if in code. Poetry needs to lead us somewhere, whether to a more complete understanding of ourselves or the world or at best, of both at the same time.
How do you do this? First to be a good poet, you need to read a lot (I mean a LOT) of poetry—all kinds, good-bad, native language-translated, prize-winning-barely known. READ, and look closely at what you read. Do you like it? Why? How does it make you feel? What does it illuminate? If nothing, frankly it isn’t good poetry.
I am not a teacher nor a well-published poet, although I have won several prizes. I don’t submit a lot, but even when I do, I don’t get published, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Years ago, I did get published. Then for many years when I was working to support a family, I wasn’t writing poetry. So why now, that I am writing again, am I not being published? My poetry is too accessible. I am telling short stories and thinking they are poems. Poems need rhythm. They need not be in a specific traditional style, but part of poetry is SOUND! Alliteration, meter, flow. So poetry isn’t just the words on the page.
My advice to would-be struggling poets is:
- Read other poets.
- Read your own poetry out loud. Are your punctuation and line breaks in the right place? Is your rhythm there?
- Read it to a trusted critic and see what their reaction is.
- Revise (maybe that should be first)!
There is much more one can learn about writing poetry, but perhaps for another time. I have learned a great deal from good teachers, but also just by reading. One of my problems is I get too carried away by my subject. Here is a poem I wrote about that.
Notice in particular how the lines get shorter, more powerful as my anger increases. And now that I’ve published it here, it is not eligible to be published elsewhere 🙁 so I hope you enjoy it!
Inescapable, Numbing Knowledge
I am consumed by my compassion,
so that I am just ether, drained, only small breaths.
If lifted like the morning clouds and fog
covering the lower valley all could be seen—every creek,
every flicker flying from piñon to piñon,
but then—every bleeding
wound; every rape
by power, soldier,
father; all the greed
that closes doors;
no, slams them
in our faces
and laughs grotesquely
all the while.
I, doubled over now
with shards of grief,
the fate of certitude
and the inescapable,
of knowing this essence,
hidden by the weight
bruised by life,
A recent view from my home as the full moon sets–something to inspire us all.