Include a verb in every line of your poem – 31p31d

Day 24 of 31 poems in 31 days

Let the Reader Decide

On October 15th, 1995, when the Internet was first getting noticed, I sat down and wrote a list of tips for poets. This was long before poewar.com, when I had a little spot on a newspaper’s server and dial up access that went out whenever it rained. I don’t quite know what made me think I was qualified to give advice. I was five years out of college with a degree in Creative Writing and I guess I thought I knew a thing or two.

The funny thing was how popular that article got. It was soon after I wrote that little article that my site started getting noticed. When I transferred my pages to poewar.com, the article stayed popular. Since 2005, (a full ten years after it was published and well after its peak popularity) the article has generated 215,000 unique page views.

Twenty years after writing it, I still pretty much stand by my advice. I was young and a little too sure of myself, but I was on target for the most part. I may have been a little too strident about unnamed poems (I still get angry comments about that) but overall I think the tips were helpful and I have reinterpreted a few of them for this project. One of the best pieces of advice that I gave was this:

Say what you want to say and let your readers decide what it means.

The advice was so good that I eventually turned it into a whole article. The essential point though, is that you can’t spend all of your time worrying about what the audience will think of your poem. They may love it or they may hate it. They may understand what you are saying or they may interpret it in an entirely different way. You need to accept that and let it happen.

You also need to respect your audience. Don’t waste precious lines by trying to make things obvious. Don’t be purposely vague, but don’t try to tell people what to think about what you write. If you do, be ready for them to disagree or worse, wonder why you thought they wouldn’t get it. A poem isn’t an essay or a manual. It is an attempt to capture a piece of the universe and save it on paper. That piece of the universe may be beautiful or ugly, amazing or mundane, but chances are it can’t be explained. If that sounds too philosophical, so be it.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Include a verb in every line of your poem.

0 comments

  1. I really liked your advice about unnamed poems. No-one had ever said it to me before I saw your remarks, and what you said made heaps of sense to me. I have never written an ‘Untitled’ since (well except for micropoetry like haiku and tanka). I also tell other poets to please find a title, if it’s only the first line of the poem or part thereof.

  2. I Try

    I feel like a speck
    traveling in a shoe groove
    while the Universe runs rampant

    I want
    to make something, anything better
    but it all seems so big, so daunting

    I start
    small – save a (small) dog or three
    donate the fixings for a stranger’s Thanksgiving
    buy aspirin, shampoo, and crayons
    to send to Haiti and Cuba
    bake cookies, pies, and cakes
    to raise funds for pretty much any cause that asks

    I am
    one person, easily lost, still striving
    to be the speck or small part thereof
    that makes the Universe stumble
    just enough to run a better course

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