Thursday, April 18 is Poem in Your Pocket Day! Share your favorite poem down in the comments if you’d like us to add it to the packet we’ll be sharing from throughout the day.
Yesterday we shared some original poems and talked a bit about our relationship to poetry. We’d had a great time creating found poems last week but struggled when it came to putting together a satisfying poem using our own words. While all art is subjective, poetry doesn’t have as many concrete rules as fiction does. It’s harder to gauge a poem’s quality—even its doneness is a matter of opinion. Many practicing poets talk about cutting up a poem and rearranging the lines to find its best flow, which suggests a kind of open-endedness that can stymie any writer who likes to edit and re-edit their work, who saves every revision just in case they overshoot the best version of the piece, and who feels like there ought to be One Right Way the poem fits together.
Midway through the meeting we took a break from poetry to talk about our novels and what we don’t like about them. Sounds negative, but it was an immense relief to find ourselves on firmer ground. We know what’s wrong with them, what’s missing, what’s underdeveloped. We don’t always know how to fix these problems, but identifying them is half the battle. If a novel is missing a key component—a central character’s development, a hole in the plot, a loose end that’s never tied up—just about any good reader will spot the obvious and glaring flaw, because the rules of fiction are so much clearer.
So how do you know what your poem is missing? Sure, there are forms that tell you what to do: rhyme these lines, repeat that one, use this many syllables and make sure they hit these beats. But even following the rules of a form to the letter won’t guarantee that the poem will be good. Too, a good poem, one that satisfies a reader, still may not accomplish what the poet intended. Declaring a satisfactory poem unfinished will get you a blank stare, and you may not be able to articulate what it is that you were hoping the poem would do that it didn’t do. That’s what the poem is for, after all. It says what we can’t say plainly. It strikes chords that prose can’t reach. That’s why it’s worth hammering away at it, even if you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing.
We didn’t really arrive at any answers. Chime in down in the comments if you’ve got any ideas for us.
We also talked about how poetry can occur in unexpected places. We’ve explored this with found poetry, how we can pull words and phrases from other texts to turn into our own poems. Sometimes a text or fragment can stand alone as accidental poetry, with little help from the finder. Recipes can offer moments like this. Apparently so can Google’s predictive search.
For next week (Monday, April 22nd at 5pm) we’re taking a break from poetry to focus on our works in progress. It sounds like everybody’s hit a wall—life’s busy, writing’s hard—so it’s a good time for a brainstorming session. But even as we return to fiction, we encourage you all to keep reading poetry. That thing it does that prose can’t will knock your syntax loose a little and make your prose richer.