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Congratulations Are Due … Again
Hats off to poet Eric Forsberg for winning the 2014 Edgar Allen Poe Prize, sponsored by the Poetry Society of Virginia—a noteworthy event under any circumstances but especially so this year because Eric also won the prize in 2013. Eric, whose book Imagine Morning was published last year, won for a new poem, “Under the Influence of Internet.” Nice work, Eric!
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?
The poem arrives in pieces, a line here, a word there. I write it quickly before it can escape, wake early and revise it, then revise again. It’s brilliant—surely my best work to date! Subtle! Smooth! Deceptively simple! And so on.
But let the poem rest a day or so and the brilliance fades. What I thought was clever is clumsy. What I thought creative is derivative. And so on. (This was the case with the poem about the fly posted earlier, about which enough said.)
Does this happen to you? What do you do when it does? Tear the poem up, keep revising it, or put it away with the hope that it will seem better a month from now? Tell us your story.
“… how can you ever be sure / that what you
write is really / any good at all …”
you can’t you can never be sure
Strong words, but it helps to know that other poets, even the greats, live with uncertainty about their craft. Read the whole poem on The Writer’s Almanac.
In the Cards
Ideas for poems are everywhere, but sometimes I feel surrounded by an anti-poetry force field that’s keeping the ideas out. In a 2008 interview in The Paris Review, poet Kay Ryan tells of finding inspiration in a deck of tarot cards. She wasn’t interested in telling fortunes, but she liked the pictures:
… in the morning I’d turn one card over and whatever that card was I would write a poem about it. The card might be Love, or it might be Death. My game, or project, was to write as many poems as there were cards in the deck. But since I couldn’t control which cards came up, I’d write some over and over again and some I’d never see. That gave me range.
Ryan says the tarot helped her see she could write about anything. You can read the interview here.
The Missing Couplet
It’s exciting to have a piece accepted for publication, so I was delighted when Boston Literary Magazine published my poem “What I Know about Chemistry” in its Winter 2013-14 issue. But alas, the final couplet didn’t make it into print. Not their fault! Turns out it didn’t make it into my submission either. So, to correct the little chemical spill, here‘s the whole poem:
What I Know about Chemistry
Lesson learned: when you cut and paste, double check!
Kudos for Haiku Book
How to Appreciate a Poem
“Read it out loud. When you read a poem aloud, something amazing happens. It becomes a part of your physiology. Your body becomes actually involved in understanding and responding to it. You have more of a visceral reaction.”—Poet Richard Blanco, The New York Times Magazine, January 12, 2014
‘Among the countless hollowed slopes …’
Eric Forsbergh’s new book, Imagine Morning: Poems of Companionship and Solitude, shows the range of his work, from longer, philosophical and narrative pieces to this brief but measured and precise description of a moment in time:
You can read more poems from the book here.
50 Birds for Each of Us
“On any given day,” according to author Thor
Hanson in his book Feathers, “up to four hundred
billion individual birds may be found flying,
soaring, swimming, hopping, or otherwise
flitting about the earth. That's more than fifty
birds for every human being.”
First Bad Poem of the Day
This exercise, suggested by a creative writing
professor, assumes that (a) you will write at
least one poem every day and (b) some or all of
the poems you write that day will be bad. It’s
the first bad one that matters, though, the
first unformed idea, the first limping lines,
the first ragged image. That’s the one you write
down as soon as you wake up. When you’ve
collected a notebook full of first bad poems,
look back for the few gems that gleam out of the
dross and see what you can make of them.
Things are true until they’re not
What’s A Poem For?
There’s no right answer—that is, any one of a hundred answers can be right. But I like what poet Sebastian Matthews said in an interview for Spartanburg Magazine. Unfortunately, the interview is no longer available online, but here’s Matthews’ answer to the double-barreled question, What must a poem do? How does it work on the reader?
It must have sufficient energy to allow the reader to move through it; ample music and imagery to get him to return to the page and read it aloud; and enough wisdom or insight to make her ponder it as she heads back out into the day. I want him to be ensnared by the poem so that he can't help but bring it with him to the next thing. Ideally, she would end up at a party of like-minded souls and read the poem to her friends, who will read poems to her in return. Or he'll post it on his blog, or type it out in an e-mail to a friend, or send it by post as a card or a letter. Or write out a few lines in her notebook, or use a line in a painting or a collage. Maybe he'll write a poem as a reply, which as Geoff Dyer once said, is the real critical response: a lineage of readers and writers communicating through this dialogue.
A snatch of conversation … a message scrawled on a rest room wall … found words can be good poem starters. Examples:
• Reclaim yourself.
Overhearing stuff like this is why it’s good to keep a little notebook handy.—S.Z.,
Advertisements for Yourself
Poets tend to be modest souls, so marketing your
work can seem an onerous task. Not so with our
fellow blogger Kevin Taylor, who’s come up with
a really clever way to let people know who he is
and what he does—and to make his marketing plan
pay for itself.
When I follow this routine with people, they are
happy. I am happy. I get paid for poetry, and
the people who have my booklets will promote me
to someone else with the second copy. Very cool.
They will contribute to my success and have
someone else to talk to about my poetry.
At the Lumberyard
Waiting in the car while my husband ran in to ask a couple of questions, I jotted a few lines that later turned into this:
You read that right. When the Los Angeles Times asked for some of the above, the editors heard from 1,500 poets and would-be poets. Read the resulting “Rhyme and Reason” here. Washington Post, New York Times, are you listening?
Conversation with a Poet
In response to our last post, Canadian poet Kevin Taylor writes that when he tells anyone he’s a poet—“which I do every day”—the conversation goes something like this:
Q. What are your poems about?
And then, Taylor says, people usually get interested, and the conversation continues. “What kind of poems do you write?” they ask. Kevin’s answer: “Well, what do you like?” And then he quotes one of his poems that he thinks matches their preference. (You can see some of Kevin’s poetry here.)
About our Name
Ever notice how the conversation stutters when you tell someone you’re a poet? Members of the Poetry Society of America report these common responses:
• What are your poems about?
My own answers to these comments, in order:
• Love, death—you know, the usual.
A Little Night Music
Alan Meyrowitz, a friend from the Northern Virginia Poetry Salon, sent us this poignant short poem that captures a life in a few lines.
Alan Meyrowitz received his doctorate in computer science from George Washington University in 1980 and retired from the federal government in 2005 after a career in research. His poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including California Quarterly, Diverse Voices Quarterly, River Oak Review, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Forge, where “Night Lilies” was published in the Winter 2011-12 issue.
What’s a micro-chapbook? At the Origami Poems Project, it’s a way to spread poetry free—yes, free—through palm-sized books printed on a single sheet of paper, then folded Origami-style into, well, micro-chapbooks.
Richer Resources poet Sherry Weaver Smith just published one called “Charing Cross,” which contains six poems. Find Sherry and her little book here.
Your Byline Here
Seven is a nice, symbolic number—seven deadly sins, seventh heaven, seven wonders of the world. So, fingers crossed and trusting in the possible power of numerology, here are my seven steps to getting your poems published:
1. Submit, submit, submit. If you really want to get your poetry published, you have to work at it. My go-to source is the classified section of Poets & Writers Magazine. Sure, you can see the listings online, but why wouldn’t you pay for a subscription and help the cause along?
2. Submit with surgical precision. Look for a good fit. My first published poem appeared in CHEST Journal, a publication for thoracic surgeons. The poem arose from hallucinations I had while coming to after lung surgery—virtually made for CHEST.
3. But cast a wide net. This isn’t as contradictory as it sounds. Keep an eye on the blogs and email newsletters for unexpected opportunities, and consider revising/refocusing an existing poem to better fit a particular call for submissions. A poem I wrote about a typhoon in Hawai’I didn’t sound like a good fit for an anthology of poetry about Hurricane Sandy, but the subtitle said “and other natural disasters,” and the editors accepted my piece.
4. Keep careful track. Sure, you file submission emails, but it’s a pain to keep double-checking them to make sure you haven’t already sent these poems to that journal. One way to stay organized is an online submissions tracker. Check Writer's Database for one example.
5. Follow the guidelines. If you send poems to journals that accept simultaneous submissions, be scrupulous about withdrawing any that are accepted elsewhere. And don’t expect editors to bend their guidelines for you. If they say, “Send up to five poems,” don’t send six. That goes for line length, document format, thematic focus, and other requirements.
6. Be patient. The good folks who edit poetry journals usually have day jobs and are inundated with submissions, so don’t expect a quick response when you submit a poem. Submission guidelines often provide a rough estimate of response time.
7. Don’t take rejection personally. My first poetry teacher called rejection letters membership cards in the poets’ club. I kept my first one on my bulletin board as an incentive to keep trying.—S.Z.
How Good is that Poem?
Before you submit your poem for publication, ask yourself how it would go down with other readers. It isn’t easy to be objective about your own work, but it’s a good habit to cultivate. At a recent meeting of the Northern Virginia Poetry Salon, we took a look at a list of questions the editors of the Beloit Poetry Journal ask about poems that are submitted:
It’s hard enough to say “yes” to all those questions, but if you want an even more intimidating list, check out the Connecticut Poetry Society’s Poetry Critique Checklist at Connecticut Poetry Society. Click on Contests and keep scrolling … and scrolling … and you’ll come to some 28 questions on the subjects of theme, story, length, imagination, meter/rhyme/etc., music, and complexity/novelty. Any poem that can survive this scrutiny is, if not a masterpiece, at least darn good.—S.Z.
Brooding about Brood II
If you live on the East Coast, you’ve no doubt heard about Brood II, or heard its many members. Some parts of the Washington, D.C., area are swarming with buzzing cicadas, just coming to the surface after 17 years. Love ’em or hate ’em, you just can’t ignore ’em, and Washington Post columnist John Kelley is paying attention. After a poignant column on June 3, Kelley challenged readers to send in cicada poems. Here’s one of ours that made the cut:
Want more cicada poems? Check Kelley's June 5 column.—S.Z.
And the Winner Is …
Virginia poet Eric Forsbergh recently brought home a handful of prizes in the Poetry Society of Virginia’s annual competition—including second place in the haiku category. His winning entry:
Four Haiku on the Theme of Falling in Love
Eric’s a winner, too, in the category of Most Thoughtful Anniversary Present Ever. These four haiku are from the 25 he wrote for his wife on their 25th anniversary. Husbands, sharpen your pencils.—S.Z
Two Beats of Silence
When I am done with being right // And you are done with being wronged
Let me tell you two short stories about this short poem.
I had an argument with my
wife that descended into unpleasantries and
upset. I slept poorly, and at work the next day
I composed these few lines to try and fix it.
Let the Poem Breathe
Let the Poem BreatheI don't often go to poetry readings, but I recently took part in an open mic at a bookstore not far from my house. Years ago I used to host a poetry night, and the one I just attended reminded me of something I had noticed way back when.
The Morning Rush
For a different look at speed, grab your coffee and read this poem:
Hajjar Amr is a Virginia-based lecturer, spiritual leader, and published poet.
Grow a Month of Poems
Poetry Month! Instead of April's flowers, why
not grow a poem a day as spring takes hold? If
this seems daunting, perhaps consider trying to
write haiku, only three lines. While haiku
classically had five syllables in the first
line, seven in the second, and five echoing in
the third, as writers in different languages
have adapted the original Japanese form, poets
have not necessarily followed this rule.
early spring morning
You might even find that it’s habit forming.—Sherry Weaver Smith
Read a Poem-a-Day
For even more
poetry inspiration during National Poetry Month,
sign up for publisher Alfred E. Knopf's
Poem-a-Day. Just enter your email in the left
sidebar at this
link to make poetry a daily habit in
The Gift of Self
Sometimes an old friend surprises you with a new talent—or, more precisely, a talent that has been kept hidden. That’s the case with my friend Ingrid, a California artist who, it turns out, has been writing poetry all along. Here’s one of hers that I like especially:
Watch the Magic Happen
Somewhere in cyberland a ghostly poet is writing a poem as you watch. It’s called QuickMuse, and if you skip the outdated commentary and go straight to what the site calls the “Agon Archive,” you can choose a date, read the day’s prompt, and then watch the words appear. The poet’s challenge: write a poem in response to the prompt, and do it in 15 minutes. Watch in real time or speed it up—either way, you can almost see the poet’s fingers on the keys.—S.Z.
Company of Poets
One of the best things about writing poetry is getting to know other people who do. The Northern Virginia Poetry Salon, a regional venture by members of the Poetry Society of Virginia, gives poets a chance to get together informally each month to read and critique each others’ work. We’re a diverse and lively bunch, and I think our work is strengthened by the feedback. Here’s a poem by one member that resonated with all of us:
She could pull a hockey stop
Yet in that school day rite of Spring,
A native of Massachusetts, Eric Forsbergh wrote
poetry in high school and college. After a 25
year hiatus, he resumed in 2010, and is
currently an active member of the Poetry Society
of Virginia. He lives in Reston, and is a
Let us know what you think,
and what you’re writing.—S.Z.
Write a poem about something you lost. Write a
poem using these words: cheese, bird, navy.
Write a poem about a dream. Write a poem
about yourself in which nothing is true. A
I lost my youth
None of this is true except the lost youth.—S.Z. What About Rhyme? I’m not
against rhyme. I just can’t do it well—can’t use
it subtly enough to tickle the ear as an
afterthought instead of smacking the poor reader
with a sledge hammer. Sometimes rhyming poems
sound like advertising jingles with forced
rhymes. But some poets are masters of the deft
line ending, the unexpected rhyme scheme:
Sometimes, on waking, she
would close her eyes
opening stanza of Richard Wilbur’s “The House,”
which appeared in The New Yorker on August 31,
2009. Wonderful, isn’t it? But then, it’s
Friend Writes …
She could pull a hockey stop
Yet in that school day rite of Spring,
A native of Massachusetts, Eric Forsbergh wrote poetry in high school and college. After a 25 year hiatus, he resumed in 2010, and is currently an active member of the Poetry Society of Virginia. He lives in Reston, and is a Vietnam veteran.
Let us know what you think, and what you’re writing.—S.Z.
Write a poem about something you lost. Write a poem using these words: cheese, bird, navy. Write a poem about a dream. Write a poem about yourself in which nothing is true. A negligible example:
I lost my youth
None of this is true except the lost youth.—S.Z.
What About Rhyme?
I’m not against rhyme. I just can’t do it well—can’t use it subtly enough to tickle the ear as an afterthought instead of smacking the poor reader with a sledge hammer. Sometimes rhyming poems sound like advertising jingles with forced rhymes. But some poets are masters of the deft line ending, the unexpected rhyme scheme:
Sometimes, on waking, she
would close her eyes
That’s the opening stanza of Richard Wilbur’s “The House,” which appeared in The New Yorker on August 31, 2009. Wonderful, isn’t it? But then, it’s Wilbur.—S.Z.
A Friend Writes …
Thanks for your feedback—and your poems. Here’s one that paints a poignant picture in just a few brushstrokes:
Sunset of pink, orange and
Mary Clair Ervin Gildea grew up in the Mississippi Delta and graduated from Millsaps College. Her poems have been published in Audience, Margin, and Poetically Speaking. She enjoys participating in the Arlington (VA) Poets Group and discussing the poems read there.
If the spirit moves you, please send a poem and a few lines about yourself to email@example.com.
Where would we be without librarians? Thanks to librarians everywhere—and to one in particular for providing the source of the wonderful lines by W.S. Merwin quoted in a previous post: “The Unwritten,” The New Yorker, February 20, 1971.
An Ordinary Fly
“I keep writing about the
ordinary,” the poet Philip Levine once told an
interviewer, “because for me it’s the home of
the extraordinary, the only home.”
To a Fly on the Sugar Bowl
Gently on the
rim of this one
Each grain of
sugar a separate
Look back now
What do I owe
your fragile life
What after all
does fate owe
(copyright © 2012, Sally Zakariya)
On the Virtue of Brevity
How long is too long? Is shorter better? Like most things about poetry, it depends. Some time ago, I was struck by these powerful but simple lines by former Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin:
“it could be that there’s only one word
The end of a longer poem, these four lines could surely stand alone, a perfect summation of what it is to write a poem. Or, what it is to know there is a poem to be written.
The passage was quoted in “Rhyme and Reason,” an article by Lauren Wilcox that appeared in the Jan. 16, 2012, issue of The Washington Post Magazine. Wilcox didn’t say what poem the lines are from, and I couldn’t find it. Can anyone help?—S.Z.
· What’s the most interesting thing on your desk? Write a rhyming quatrain about it, then try a longer poem in free verse.
· Open a book or magazine to any page and pick 10 words on that page at random. (If you close your eyes and point, you’re less likely to shape the outcome by choosing words you know will play well together.) Then use seven or so of these words in a poem. Try it with a group of poets. It’s amazing how different the resulting poems will be.
What Are You Writing?
Why should we get all the bylines? Submit your latest poem—just one for now—and we’ll publish the poems we like best in an upcoming blog post. Simultaneous submissions are fine, but please let us know if the poem is accepted or published elsewhere. Send your poem, plus a few lines about yourself, in the body of an e-mail message to: