How do you define a poem?

I was thinking about all the different ways we shape our poems, in terms of length, stanza, white space, rhyming, not rhyming metaphors, or literal, and I was thinking what is the basic structure. What must a poem have to be called a poem, especially now that there are pros poems?(They probably have always been around but it is new to me.) There was this image or sound in my head about what is a poem growing up, haikus, limerick, lyrical, sonnets and all these poems have rules you must follow. What about poems that have no rules? Is it acceptable for me to write something and say this is a poem? I am begging to think it is more of the way a piece read or makes readers feel when reading. Poetry is ever changing and growing, This could be a poem about poetry, possibly. There are many things that are poetry but what is not poetry? Even in asking that question I realize that everything is poetry, everything has something about it that is poetic. But what screams I AM NOT POETRY.

There’s a Poem in That

Picture a tea kettle. It’s boiling, but not yet whistling. Steam tumbling from the spout and fogging up the hood of the stove.


There’s a poem in that.


I’m laughing at myself, because it’s something I say nearly every day to fellow poets. “You should write a poem about it!” And, actually, I have neglected to take my own advice.

Our class this week reminded me that even though I find them mundane or of little significance to my writing, the little things that make up my everyday experience are sometimes the hidden greatest pockets of inspiration.

A common piece of advice flows in and out of almost all of the writing classrooms I have been a part of: write what you know. Suddenly, I’m looking at this in a different light. I have always thought of this phrase as relating to what interests you, what experiences you have had, what background you come from. The truth is, though, it can be both that definition and this new one I’m starting to really enjoy. I know my tea kettle really well. Down to the scratches on the side from packaging it up in a cardboard box to transition from a dorm to an apartment. How the white measurements have rubbed off up to the 1.0 liter mark and how after I empty it, the metal frame makes a clicking sound as it cools. I use this kettle every day. I’m sure it holds a poem for me, or for you.

Right now, I’d like to leave you with two questions. The first: how do you interpret the “write what you know” phrase? The second: what is some advice you give to other writers that you would want to give also to yourself?

FALL-ing for the Season

I don’t know about you guys, but as soon as the weather gets a little grey and cold, all I want to do is write about death and destruction of all things happy. I think part of me always wants to write about that, but I reign it in when it’s sunny out because I feel bad for being dark when it’s light. I don’t know what that says about me, but here we are, whatever.

I’ve been having trouble writing out of the cliche when it comes to the fall season. I don’t want to write about the falling leaves, or the color orange. I just wrote letters for Rachel and Carrie, and they both did a great job with writing about the outdoors in  a less than summer-y way. Do you guys have to be in a certain mood to write outside of the happy and sunny? (meaning all of you, not just Rachel and Carrie). I usually need a change of season scenery, and I’m getting there. I just need some subject matter that doesn’t seem mundane or used before… I don’t know, how do you all feel about seasonal writing? Do the seasons help you get into a mood, or does that not matter to you?

I’d love to capture the essence of weather in my upcoming writing. That will be my goal in the next few pieces that I write, I think. In the busy-ness of this semester, I keep forgetting to look out my window and appreciate the world for what it really is in that moment. I’m hoping to take some time and look in the next few days. Hopefully I’ll be able to do this in the comfort of my own bed this weekend.

Losing poems, & why do good poets get to use abstractions and I can’t

A few months ago, I received a great poem in my inbox. I get those every morning, thanks to my subscription to Poem-A-Day from the Academy of American Poets (Plugging not because I’m getting paid but because Poem-A-Day is awesome. ) But, this poem took me a little.

I forgot what the poem was called, or who wrote it. I remembered that the poem was about poetry. I remembered that the poem was almost all couplets . I remember it asking about what does “everyone else caress.” Lastly, I remember that the poem was full of abstractions, and that I loved it.

I’d lost the authors name, though, and couldn’t find the poem in my inbox since I forgot the title too. I looked everywhere for the poem about poetry. I didn’t read for what was probably six months.

The other day I got  a new poem that closely resembled the other one. The poem was in a very different form– it’s a prose poem in a block-format– but a line made me think it was the same author as before.

“You must take the fear of normalcy and the aerodynamics of emotions that fuel the sense of the present and jerk it to a gluttonous love.”

Again, so full of abstractions but somehow still relatable. “Normally,” “emotions,” “love”– all in one sentence. Why does it work for you, Prageeta Sharma? Why do I feel that I understand those lines? For me, the words “aerodynamics,” “gluttonous,”  and “jerk” ground me in the emotions and concepts in the poem. Aerodynamics is a concept, but it’s scientific, so it feels real to me in its basis in hard science and measurement, perhaps? Gluttonous, although an adjective, has hard g and u sounds that sound gurgle and stomach-like. And jerk is a such a quick, quippy unapologetic action.

I guess it might be about the very careful use of words. To frame abstract words in other words that have a strong sensory component, even if those words are rarely used in the poem. Every time I read poems like Sharma’s, I want to write like that, but the abstractions just end up taking me to my eleventh grade writing days. Do you guys have any ideas on how to successfully use abstraction in poetry? Should I just wait until I’m more seasoned? Do you need an MFA?

I read Sharma’s poem, “Seattle Sun,” and then was able to find the other one, called “Belonging as Consequence: on Poetry.” You can find both of these poems below:

Belonging as Consequence: On Poetry

Seattle Sun

i didn’t pass on the torch

I took what was said in my last workshop to heart, and I really tried to stop using all of my fire musings. Gone were the analogies of fire, including but not limited to: “crackling like teak wood in a blaze”,  “engulfing infernos” and “bubbling blisters”. I even tried to stop using words that even equated to temperature, and instead used words like “atmosphere”. (Side note: I’m so crazed with the usage of heat/ temperature, that I snuck another use for temperature in that last poem, and i’m surprised nobody picked up on it. I tried to make words even sound like “temperature” with my line “temper at your forehead- pointing”… Whoops. 🙂 )

But I digress. The point is that I tried not to, and it produced some very unique work that I hadn’t seen in a long time from myself. I kind of did something similar to what we were asked to do last week for our weekly poem, in that I asked myself to look for the “negatives” in my thoughts.

I ended up breaking one of the rules of the prompts in looking to the opposite of heat, (something it explicitly told me not to do), which I found to be a cooling feeling instead of simply ice cold. I tried, for now, to stay away from any extremity. In doing so, I found that thinking of cooling sensations brought me back home, to the South Shore of Long Island, where waves provide a refreshing option to baking on the hot sand. I tried not to think of the unforgiving sun, and I thought of what it feels like to step in, and to navigate the rough waters and rip tides that every Long Islander learns to do. My work benefited immensely from this, so I decided to do it again, but I used flowers, and I thought of the wildflower garden I was able to grow from mere seed packets. I tried to focus on the calm coming from the muses of my poems, and if I were to signal any kind of feelings of being uncomfortable, I would write about the absence of the feeling of zen. It’s said that “cold is just the absence of heat”, and I tried to use that.

Upon reflection of my style change, I found that I wasn’t truly writing about fire and heat, but about intense emotions, stressful situations and about being burnt out by personal issues regarding myself and other people. My transition to using different ways to express these feelings helped me identify some of these factors in finding newer ways to express them. Maybe it’s as simple as grabbing a thesaurus and looking for a better word for some people, but for me it required an entirely new thematic pattern for my writing.

The point of me writing this is not to make a blog post about myself, but to outline the process of revision. For those of you who seem to be going through a phase like myself, I think it’s worth noting the process of processing the “negatives”, so that you can try to break out of it. It might bring you somewhere familiar, like me, or maybe you can travel to another setting.  Making a point to step out of your comfort zone is scary, but so worth it!

Full Stop Therapy for Disaffected Teens

Why is everyone on this blog always starting their comments with “Hey [author of post],” or “Hi [author of post]!”??? It gives every comment such a stilted and formal vibe, like we’re baby boomers on Facebook replying to a Happy Birthday from our second cousins. Why do we do it? Because we wanna buffer our scathing comments with polite formalities? I suppose it’s easier to tell someone to piss off when you address them very kindly by their name first

It’s always amazing how such small additions to a comment can add such an emotional impact. Anyone who texts or chats on the internet often can tell you what a misplaced full stop/period can do to the emotional tone of your message. Consider:

“It’s fine”


“It’s fine.”

Doesn’t that second example carry so much more passive-aggression?

Chrissy Montelli once called the millennial penchant for removing punctuation in order to seem less intense a sign that we’re all “disaffected teens.”

We talk about this all the time in poetry, don’t we? Maybe not about the emotional impact that punctuation carries, but its sonic and rhythmic impact. A poem in which every line ends in a full stop reads much differently than a poem in which there’s no punctuation—the full stop version will come off as slower, stiffer, less breezy. Emdashes carry a different length of pause than semi-colons and colons and commas, which carry a different length of pause than periods. The smallest additions to a poem can drastically alter the way we read it. English is scary, and we should ban it from our schools.

…and that’s all I got. Did I tie my complaint about commenting into poetry well enough to get away with it?


P.S.: If anyone comments on this with “Hi Will!”, we’re gonna fight in the parking dock behind Letch

my old poems belong on MySpace (& other musings)

Picture it: you submit a poem to a literary journal of any sort, knowing full well the risk of rejection. Months go by, seasons pass, and you slowly forget that you sent anything at all, imagining your submission in a yellowing pile of slush on the top left corner of some big shot editor’s desk. Then, you receive an email that begins with “Congratulations!” and you nearly spit up your soy latte.

The poem, however, once you revisit it, doesn’t seem very…well…good anymore. You wrote it almost a year ago, and there are so many things you’d change now as a more “sophisticated” and “learned” writer. The present (and possibly unrightfully pretentious) you scoffs at faulty line breaks and turns up their nose at questionable word choices, yearning to violently stab a red pen through the computer screen and go nuts before this thing ends up in the hands of unsuspecting strangers. It feels like the poetic equivalent of sending out a link to your seventh grade MySpace page to everyone you know.

Okay, maybe I exaggerate (as all poets do), but really…just this week, I faced this exact situation. Elated as I am to share my work, I suddenly feel like it’s not even mine anymore after months separated from this specific piece.

After our discussion in class about publication and readership, and after receiving the “Congratulations!” email later that night, I was faced with the burning question: as we grow in our craft and in our lives in general, how does that change the way we look at things written in the past? I especially wonder about poets who publish whole collections and look back on them months or even years later…do they still find immense value in their past work? Can they appreciate something they’d written at 20 years old when they are old and gray? Do they laugh at themselves? Do they cut themselves some slack?

At least for me, I know I have an odd relationship with past work and I wonder if this is a universal feeling or if I’m just being pretentious. Let me know your thoughts on this!

Publishing’s Effect on the Reader’s Review

I have always been in awe of my peers’ writing abilities. Poem after poem, I stumble on lines that I want to emulate or techniques that I want to try out in my own work. Despite my admiration of these poems, I have taken enough workshops that I am now engineered to add suggestions and cuts as I peruse the poems. Personally, when writing poems I never feel like I can carve out the final edition; I feel as if there is always room for improvement.

I have a different mindset when reading published poems. I think that simply being published adds a sense of inaccessibility to the poems. No one is willing to take a red pen to Robert Frost or Walt Whitman. I think it would be interesting to workshop poems that are already considered untouchable because of their longevity in the canon.

I think that workshopping some of the classics would help us polish our own editing process. I think that reading some of these poets whether they are similar to our own writing style or very different and then trying to workshop them would be very beneficial.

Overall, I think that workshopping or taking a red pen to already published works would make them more accessible and let us appreciate them even more.


“White Days” by Priscilla Becker

The poem “White Days” by Priscilla Becker in the reader was fascinating to me. This is because while reading it, I found myself drawn to the sounds of the words, specifically the “s” sound. Reading through the first time, I paid so much attention to the sounds of the words that I didn’t even take in their meaning and had no idea what I had read! “S” is a common letter in words, but still how it was repeated so often in the poem really added to the sound of the poetry, I thought. The lines, “suffocate lowers like snowy exhaust”, (6-7) “the walls sequestered” (19), and “smell parsnip and staple” (27-28) show the use of sound in the poem. In each the “s” sounds appear at different parts of the line and in different parts of the individual words. It almost made it a the repetition of the “s” sound a surprise. There was also repetition of other sounds, such as “indisputable, unarguable” (2-3) and “pin heads, shivering paper ridges”(30-31). Really, overall in this poem I was so engrossed with the word choice and sounds that the meaning didn’t even seem important. Did anyone else have an opinion of this poem?


So how do we feel about writing poems about the holidays? I tried writing a Christmas poem a couple years back because I was just so taken by the Christmas spirit, and it wasn’t too bad, but reading it after the holidays, I realized it seemed cliche and contrived. I’ve wanted to talk about this for a while and I feel like the blog, where a bunch of writers both in Geneseo and out, can add their input. Do we like holiday poems? Should I just stick to seasons and thunderstorms like a true poet?

I’ve read a couple poems centering around the holidays, but it seems like they always deal with a larger theme, with like, the holiday in the background. Is that the key?

Or should I just embrace the fact that I want to become the Michael Buble of Christmas poems?