Poems Within Poems

Pick a line. Any line.

Now, consider it a poem.

The process of writing inevitably turns into the process of editing and revision. If I gave every line the tender love and care that I devote to each poem, perhaps I would not settle for mediocrity. Unfortunately, I have the habit of writing lines that fall into two different categories: my favorites and space-fillers. These space-filling lines would be exponentially more appealing as white space. Or quotes. Or abstractions. Anything but space-fillers.

As Patrick Phillips states in A Broken Thing, “the line is not ornamentation.” I must learn to write this in the margins of my poetry. This shall become my mantra. When my lines become space-fillers, or ornamentation, they lack “ground beneath [them]: the conveyance that keeps [them] going where [they have] to go” (190). In other words, each line must maintain enough momentum to propel the reader to the next line or the following white space. There is a fine balance between urging the reader forward and letting them linger. In other words, each line is a paradox– it must be fulfilling and yet leave them wanting more. While Phillips claims that the answer to writer’s block is to “write the first few words that will become the line, which will become the craft I need to carry on,” I happen to disagree. I believe that this is the starting point for lines that lack purpose. When contemplating the conclusion of a poem, Phillips reminds himself that he has just “one more line to make the stanza…five more feet to make the line…” (191). I believe that this approach subjects the poem to monotony. Lines written in this manner will lack spontaneity and craft. As a result, the blank space will transform into space-fillers– both of which are undesirable. Instead, each line deserves time to grow and reach its full potential. If I wrote every line with the intention that it was a poem itself, I believe that my poems would slowly lose their staleness. Cliches, ill-placed line breaks, and space fillers would all be eradicated from my work and only the lines that deserved a spot at the podium would remain. All in all, we must not forget that each line is a poem and must be treated as so.

2 Replies to “Poems Within Poems”

  1. Rachel,

    I find it interesting that you disagree with Phillips’ assertion that “…the first few words…will become the line, which will become the craft I need to carry on.” I think “carrying on” is not an artists’ original intention, but the (un?)fortunate nature of poetry as I know it is that it has it’s own ideas of morphology; though I would love to craft each line intently and carefully, the truth is that spontaneity lurks in the poems’ own ambitions- the story IT wants to tell in the way IT wants to tell it.

    Personally, I’ve found that the initial time I spend writing a poem is likened to dipping my feet in the water…soon enough, the direction that the poem takes sucks me under & somehow I end up with a piece of work that has shaped itself, even if the words tell a different story than what I had originally imagined.

    The ability for one to pack only the essential needs in a small knapsack and get hiking on the wild and unpredictable road of poetic adventure is what I call “carrying on.” I think to carry on is to humbly admit that we are at the liberty of the words we write- in some cases, it feels like they write us (insert hitchhiking metaphor).

    Though I do agree with many things you say here, I must argue that focusing too much energy on technique and craft for its own sake can make the poem stale and controlled: the wildness is the exciting part.

    (Then again, I may be a bit of a poetic subversive).


  2. I completely understand with your ideas about editing and revision. I think a lot of times, I do the same thing when writing poems. I focus on the poem as a whole, and forget to look at lines individually. However if I did, then maybe I would notice that a certain line isn’t necessary, or maybe should be reworded, or any other revision. But because I focus on the entire poem, I don’t notice those specific revisions I could make to certain lines. Furthermore, I find the quote you discussed on writer’s block very interesting. I understand your perspective, that it might not create a well thought out, creative poem. But maybe it would be a good place to start a poem, and come up with different ideas. Once you have a little bit of a poem written using the method, you could go back in and completely revise it until you are confident that the poem is the best it can be.

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