The Best Poetry Advice I’ve Ever Received

It’s simple: the point of poetry is to feel new feelings, or think new thoughts.

Now if that’s not clear, you can go check out this 50-minute video 😉 which taught me everything I know about poetry. (Just kidding. Kind of.)

But here I’ll try to summarize and write some of my own opinions.

For a long time, I wrote poems almost purely to process my emotions and cope with difficult situations. They were personal–I’d write for my eyes only, about some specific event or feeling in my life.

Often, they’d ramble a lot, and the few I did show to other people didn’t make much sense to them, no matter how much they impacted me personally.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, school taught me a lot about ABAB rhyme structure and sonnets and limericks. I read a lot of hundreds-year-old poets writing about their lovers in iambic pentameter. I got pretty good at annotating poems and answering questions about them on tests, I even liked some of their themes.

But in both places–personal ramble-poems and in school–I believed that poems contained some deep, serious meaning that was the reader’s job to “figure out” (paraphrased from video, around 3 minutes in).

So if someone didn’t understand my poem, then they clearly weren’t working hard enough to “get it.” When I read a poem, it was my job to put on my literary-excavation cap and go digging for themes–if I didn’t get it, I wasn’t working hard enough.

Sometimes we poets wrap the meaning of our poems in too much glitter and gauze, we focus too much on how it looks. We sacrifice meaning for the perfect rhyme scheme, we get caught up in our dissection of a clever metaphor. We like our alliteration, and we feel smart with our highbrow vocabulary.

But I don’t think any of that should be the point of writing poetry. Those should become the tools to help us with the point of our poetry.

The point of our poetry is to feel new feelings, and think new thoughts.

This youtube video used a great example, which I’m going to borrow.

Smart daffodils! They waited

’til the cold snap was over, then brought themselves

into the corridor, like lamps of pity–

(Yellow Tractate” by Brenda Hillman)

Poetry that makes me think new thoughts? Check. I never thought about daffodils as intelligently waiting out the cold, or as sad lamps lining a corridor.

But it totally fits. Now I can’t not picture daffodils somewhat like lamps.

this is the best poetry advice I’ve ever received, because now when I write a poem, I ask myself what new and intriguing thought or feeling I’m trying to convey. And then I do my best to convey it, instead of rambling about life events metaphorically, or getting too focused on the structure of my poem.

Here’s a short little poem I’m rather proud of in that regard:

These trees tower so high as to be

Arrows

Stabbed through the skin of the earth–

Like we,

Mere humans,

Walk the inside of the Earth’s ribcage, the blue sky her beating, enveloped heart.

Of course, I still tend to ramble in my poems. Sometimes I care too much about the alliteration, or I lose myself in a metaphor. Go back a year ago on this blog, and you’ll easily find some subpar poems. But you know what? I think they’re getting better.

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