Write a poem that begins and ends with the same word

You May Already be a Winner

There is nothing wrong with entering poetry contests. It is one way of taking part in the larger world of poetry. It also gives you the motivation to write well and to keep writing. If you win a legitimate contest, it is a great honor. Unfortunately, many contests are not legitimate.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. There is no quick or easy route to get rich as a poet. Even making a living as a poet is a difficult task. The masses do not buy books of poetry. Exceptions to this rule are rare, and generally involve someone who is famous for something other than poetry. Keep this in mind at all times, because there are people out there looking to take advantage of you.

Poetry contests are one of the methods that unscrupulous people use to take advantage of poets. They offer a substantial prize, $5,000, $10,000, $25,000, $100,000 to the winners of their poetry contests. All you have to do is submit your poems – along with a fee. Even if they don’t ask for an upfront fee, they still have ways of making you pay. In fact, if someone is offering you $100,000 for a contest you pay nothing to enter, you’d better be extra careful about entering.

Be prepared to become a finalist. An unscrupulous contest promoter’s goal will be to get you to attend a convention at which the winner will be named. The convention will probably be at some pretty locale that is easy to get so, such as Las Vegas or Miami. The fee for the convention won’t be too unreasonable, because they want you to come, but make no mistake; you are paying for a trip along with many, many other people they named as finalists. It may be a nice vacation, but you didn’t get there on talent. I don’t mean to say that you aren’t talented, just that talent is irrelevant to the contest promoters.

As a finalist, they will also publish you. Your poem will appear in a nice thick book along with a bunch of other poems. The book will be attractive, possibly leather-bound, but the poems will just be a collection of whoever sent something in. The book will cost you at least twenty dollars, maybe more. They’ll be counting on you to buy several so that your family and friends can see your “accomplishment”. They’ll probably also offer to sell you a nice plaque, perhaps one with your poem engraved on it. Whatever the case, they’ll keep trying to find a way to get your money.

There is nothing wrong with entering contests, but it pays to do a little research before you enter. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t enter contests if the sponsors seem unwilling to share the details of how the contest works. Look for contests that are sponsored by schools, newspapers, magazines, major corporations and reputable publishers. Understand that any fee you pay to enter is going to be used to fund the prizes. If the fee seems excessive, don’t enter. Five dollars is one thing, but as the price grows so do the chances that you are getting ripped off. It is better to make a five dollar mistake than a hundred dollar mistake.

Never pay an additional fee once you have entered a contest. Don’t pay to have the poem published. Don’t pay for a plaque. Don’t pay for a trip. If you are the one paying them, then you are not a winner.

Sorry for this fairly cynical post, but people need to be warned.

Today’s Assignment

Write a poem that begins and ends with the same word.

Today’s Featured Poet

I wanted to take this chance today to formally promote Rosemary Nissen-Wade’s recommended Australian poets. I have already discussed John Kinsella, who I found much to my liking. I haven’t had time to delve as deeply into these three poets, and I would appreciate hearing other people’s opinions about them.

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.

Write a poem that discusses a real moment in your life without discussing its larger meaning

The Personal Postmodernist

The current era of poetry is commonly referred to as the Postmodern Era. Postmodern thought is a complex series of philosophical and literary responses to the post World War II changes in world view and the acceleration of society. It isn’t the sort of thing you can explain in a blog post. I’ve taken entire classes on postmodern thought and I still can’t really explain it. The important thing to remember though, is that postmodernism is greatly concerned with challenging the traditional conventions of thought and communication.

One of the poetic movements that rose to prominence in the Postmodern Era is confessional poetry. Confessional poetry is about the writer. The poetry is about the writer’s life and the world around them. While confessional poems often touch on universal themes, they do so from the personal perspective.

The concept of poets writing about their own lives is not a recent development. You can go back through the ages and find poets discussing elements of their lives. What changed in the Postmodern Era was their approach. The language became more direct. The subject matter became more personal and the limits to what poets were willing to discuss evaporated. If a human being does it, chances are there’s a poet out there writing about it. The boundaries of sexuality, drug use, violence and other morality issues were the first and most obvious to fall, but the movement extends far beyond that.

Poets were writing about their role in society. They were writing about all of the things that were changing around them. The rise of commercialism, technology, social awareness and discontent were all subject matter for the postmodern era. In confessional poetry, all of this was related from the personal point of view. Problems weren’t presented as being out in the world at large, they were presented in the way that everyday people faced their problems.

The key to confessional poetry is an honest assessment of the poet’s life and experiences. Confessional poetry is written in the first person. While it can still be poetic and beautiful, it is often more direct and common in its language. It presents the poet’s point of view and relates strongly to the realities of the poet’s world. In many cases, no conclusions are drawn and no philosophy is discussed. Instead, the poet conveys their point by presenting life as they experience it. In other cases, the poet lays their point out directly, telling the reader exactly what they want them to think about things.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a poem that discusses a real moment in your life without discussing its larger meaning or attempting to lead the reader to a conclusion.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Terrance Hayes poetry is both personal and sociological. It comes wrapped in pop culture references and discussion of the world around him. He often mixes very real images with surreal touches.



Break the rules – 31p31d

Day 22 of 31 Poems in 31 Days

Doing What You Can’t

“Can’t” is a word that should rarely be applied to poetry. There is very little that “can’t” be done in a poem. The beauty of poetry is that the risks are so low. While it would be stupid of me to say that you “can’t” get on the bestseller’s list with a book of poetry, I can tell you that the market for poetry is significantly smalleR than the market for fiction. You can choose to be saddened or frustrated by this, or you can embrace the minuscule size of the market. If you

aren’t writing poetry to get rich, then you don’t have to worry about the demands of the market. You don’t have to write “marketable” poetry, because most poetry isn’t very marketable anyway. You are free to indulge you wildest and most experimental ideas (or your strictest and most conventional ideas) precisely because the consequences are so minor.

So what if most poetry doesn’t rhyme anymore? If you like the way it sounds, do it.

So what if nobody reads epic poems anymore? If you have that much to say about one thing, then you should say it.

So what if sestinas don’t sell well? Nothing sells well. Write it if you like it.

There is nothing wrong with taking risks and breaking rules. Just remember that broken rules don’t make a poem good or bad. You aren’t going to impress someone with your combination enjambment, alliteration and tetrameter unless the poem is actually good. you don’t break rules just to break rules. You do it because it is what produces the poem you want to produce.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Try something that scares you (just a little) and then write a poem about it.

Today’s Recommended Poet

Ken Rumble’s book, Key Bridge, is either an epic length poem or 79 different poems about the same subject, depending on your point of view. The subject is Washington DC, and he captures the life and spirit of that city in just about any way you can imagine. He plays with style, language, line, rhythm, placement and any other poetic concept you can think of as he weaves through the city from multiple perspectives and styles. Whats more interesting, to me, is that shortly after it’s publication he moved from Washington DC, the city of his birth, to Greensboro North Carolina. I guess he was finished.

Write a three stanza poem that shows a progression with each stanza

On the Move

Poetry, unlike prose, is not reliant on plot. While it is possible to create a poem with a plot, a plot is by no means a requirement for a successful poem. It is merely one option out of many. Progression, however, occurs whether a poem has a plot or not.

There should always be a reason why one line appears before or after another. There should be a reason why the first line is the first and the last line is the last. Even in an Imagist poem, the description of the image needs to progress. The readers shouldn’t feel as if they are being fed a series or random but related facts. They should feel as if the poem is leading them towards a shared goal or destination.

For many poets, progression is second nature. They automatically write in a linear style and it comes through with very little effort. That doesn’t mean that they can just assume the progression of the poem is perfect every time, but they often find little reason for change. Other poets spend much more time determining the order for their poetry. They consistently move or change lines simply because the original version (or even the revision) doesn’t seem to move forward or evoke the right impression. Determining order can be especially difficult in longer poems and in Imagist poems, which are not intended to tell a story so much as to develop an impression or feeling in the reader.

Many Means of Progression

There are no quick and easy solutions to the problem of progression. Every poem is different and has different needs. It is fairly easy to judge the progression of a poem with a plot, but a poem about an image or an issue can be harder to interpret. Below are some ways to measure progression. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it probably covers 90% of poems.

Chronological: Progression through time.
Spatial: Progression through a physical position.
Process: Progression through a sequence of events.
Size: Progression from the large to the small or the small to the large.
Climactic: Progression through levels of importance.
Relational: Progression that shows a relationship such as cause and effect, problem and solution, comparison and contrast.

When reading and editing, try to determine what sort of progression is taking place and how successfully that progression is shown. Once you determine the type of progression you can judge each part of the poem by how it relates to the intended progression.

Today’s Poetry Assignment

Write a three stanza poem that shows a progression with each stanza. The three stanzas should serve as a beginning, middle and end respectively. It might help to picture the poem as a three act play.

Today’s Recommended Poet

John Kinsella is a poet and environmentalist who purposefully pursued a rural existence in the style Thoreau’s Walden. His themes include the relationship of people to the land, to indigenous people, and to the world as a whole.

Books of Poetry