I’m focusing on poetry today because of a conversation I had at my IRL writer’s group this month and I’m thinking a lot about it so I’m going to put all of that thinking to good use. I’ve written a lot of poetry in my life and published a chunk of them and read or listened to even more. I love spoken word. I love slam poetry. I love classical poetry, modern poetry, all poetry. I struggle with rhyming poetry sometimes, it can read like a greeting card sometimes, at least when I’m the one writing it, but when it’s done well, it’s a beautiful thing.
First, we’ll look at various resources on types and forms of poetry. The Writer’s Cookbook has a pretty good list of forms and explanations: Poem Forms. The most comprehensive list I’ve found is in The Writer’s Digest. Book Riot has a good beginner’s guide complete with examples also.
When you write stories, you have all this room to convey big thoughts and big emotions. In a poem, you have so little space (unless you’re writing epic poetry but that’s harder to write well and even harder to sell). You can’t afford a wasted word in poetry. There really isn’t room for filler when you’re counting syllables. With poetry, you have to draw on our shared human existence, building on the familiar to give it a different perspective and make you see a theme or a thing differently than you have before. Allegory and metaphor only really work when the audience has some familiarity with the foundation information after all.
If you’re looking to publish poetry, check the market listings at the Submission Grindr as they’re pretty extensive (and free to search). I’m of the opinion that you should get paid for your work and I don’t mean by “exposure” so I do tend to avoid the non-paying markets but that’s a personal choice. If you’re looking to publish a chapbook (a short collection of poetry), there are several presses out there and a million contests. The Poetry Society of America has a lot of great links to various presses and contests and their website is very easy to navigate but some of their older links are not active any longer. The Poetry Foundation is the home of Poetry Magazine which is, I think, the oldest poetry mag out there and it has a wealth of information and, of course, poems to read or listen to.
No post on poetry would be complete without a few examples of my favorite poems. I have loved Cheryl Boyce Taylor’s Mango Pretty for more than a decade – it’s the kind of poem that sticks to your ribs and stays with you a very long time (side note here – IndieFeed had some great taste in poetry and it’s a shame they’re closed up). Neil Hilborn is everywhere these days because he’s different and quite talented but it is his “The Future” that sticks with me so – “I saw the future. I did, and in it, I was alive.” It’s a powerful statement that means so much to so many.
When I was young, it was Tennyson’s Lady of Shalott that spoke to my heart, then Poe’s The Raven, and Noyes’ The Highwayman (and yes, all three are so much fun to read aloud! Most of my favorite poems are.). As I got older, I read whatever poems I could find that were not in my textbooks (because those poems were never as good as what I found in the photocopied zines tacked up at the weird movie store or the coffee shop). Then I discovered spoken word and Waits, Cohen, and Kerouac. My tastes have evolved as I’ve gotten older but my love of it hasn’t changed at all. There aren’t enough hours in the day for me to read all that I want to read and poetry often gets pushed to the side and I know I should work harder to make room for it. I always learn something about myself from other people’s poems.