I don’t write the best poems and that is okay. I try to evolve (brief aside here: my undergrad specilaization in English at UC Davis was Creative Writing: Poetry. I studied under Gary Snyder there. I was accepted into the Creative Writing graduate program at the University of Glasgow on my poetry manuscript. Yet I now consider myself a novelist, albeit one who puts out the occasional humor title — or updated version thereof — just to keep things juiced). I left the protective cocoon poetry provided me to re-venture into fiction/prose and it is there that I now feel most confident (especially after years of writing ad copy at a really upright and just and non-profit investigative reporting magazine and editorials/speeches/business letters for an elected official. I do, though, read poetry voraciously, study poetry, teach poetry, find poetry in expected and unlikely places, respect lyricism of all musical genres as poetry, and adore poetry. I own countless notebooks filled with delicious or interesting or troubling words and phrases I like to keep on deck and let rattle around like soft marbles in my head. To wit: I love words.
It is for that reason that I offer these brief suggestions/comments/notations/observations as a public service. (I don’t want to get all Ezra Pound and H.D. on you, attempting to impose rules. See my previous sentence.)
- poetry is not an impossible code in need of cracking. as a reader; it takes thought, imagination, repression of fear or confusion based instinctual judgement, some reasearch and most often discussion in order for things to click.
- poetry is also not just a bunch of words strung together, something popped off in a fugue state of beatnik flow. that is what we call a working draft. if the poem cannot be analyzed, if a cogent thought never emerges, one may have some new genre (well, not new. dada has been done) on one’s hands but the point of art is to share ideas. if no reader can understand the core ideas, this is a problem. it may feel hip and intellectual, but it is still a pile of words. let your ego recede and let the poem grow.
- the speaker in the poem is not always the poet him or herself. and the whole thing can be fiction in and of itself. it’s not always a journal and really shouldn’t be.
- no one should ever be afraid to try writing a poem. poetry surrounds us, from music lyrics (more likely indie than commercial) to found poetry to overheard snippets of conversations, to the stream of consciousness that livestreams in our heads all day. go ahead. capture it. just know that you aren’t done. everything (worthwhile) in this life takes work, craft, and rework. we have brilliant, individual thoughts in our minds that need to be shared. the clearer this can happen in any medium (especially the written word) is when we reach true alchemy and human achievement. connecting your thoughts and brains to another so that the receiver understands completely your reality? that’s pure dead magic, is what that is (to borrow from the gorgeous lyricism of everyday Glaswegian parlance).
- we like to think of poetry as the Wild West, lawless and full of reinvention. the reinvention remains, but there are still boundaries. yes, boundaries should be shattered and pushed. I am speaking more toward the general preceding points.
- my beloved Gary Snyder gave an excellent talk found here about the difference between academic writing and poetry. he follows is up with one of my favorite of his poems, “Billmgham, Alaska: The Willow Tree Bar.” check it out. the man knows how to close a poem with a subtle punch in the gut. I love him forever, and not just for getting me into Alan Ginsberg’s funeral.
- poetry is mysterious to many and has come to exist is the realms of academia and intellectualism with a stray from everyday life and people. it wasn’t always this way. poetry was in newspapers, magazines, popularly purchased books, public readings. if you love poetry, let’s keep fighting to bring that back.
- look to the past for inspirations and cautionary tales, but never mimic. the mimic is not an artist. bring forth the new.
- keep it fun. I know the world is going to shit, but sometimes we have to acknowledge the light, the wonderfully absurd. poetry is neither musty tweed jackets holding frowning faces nor is it solely the painfully sincere yet rote realm of the spoken word stage. it is serious, it is tragic, it is insightful, but it is also absolutely hilarious at times.
All that said, here are some of my favorites (as of right now — my list is every changing):
“Wild Geese” (here)
“September 1, 1939” (here)
“I am Trying to Break Your Heart” (here)
“The Powow at the End of the World” (here)
“The Fish” (here)
“Strong Men” (here)
“Being a Human Being” (here)
“At Roane Head” (here)
“at the cemetery, walnut grove plantation, south carolina, 1989 ” (here)
“In Back of the Real” (here)
“The Untold Want” <basically any Whitman, but especially this> (here)
as with all poems, it is best to hear them aloud. read them aloud to yourself or if you like one in particular, try finding a video or recording of the poet performing it. totally worth it. poems live both on the page and in the air.
love to you all