[Originally published February 23, 2012.]
What is poetry?
Poetry is clumps of words that make people feel something.
Was poetry meant to be read silently or aloud?
Yes and yes! Rhyme began circa 367 B.C. or A.D. when somebody, Homer, I think, wanted to tell a famous story about a Greek guy and have people remember it. Later, in the schoolyard, rhyme developed into jump-rope songs before there were phones to look at. Soon rhyme was used to tout a company’s products and services for an ironic effect after natural disasters, i.e.. “Nationwide is on your side." Rhyme is still alive “in the hood,” where rappers use it to urge their fellow “gangstas” to kill policemen. But African-American poets have contributed more than rap; they also wrote many Harlem Renaissances.
Why do people go to poetry readings?
Some go to get signed copies of books that may one day be worth something on eBay. Some go because it makes them look arty and deep. But most use poetry readings as a gentle, non-addictive sleep aid.
What is the difference between a stanza and a verse?
This is one of those oft-asked questions like: What is the difference between a lawyer and an attorney? Or is a pig the same as a hog? All you really need to know is that both stanzas and verses are made up of lines.
What is a line?
This is a line.
But there are many kinds of lines. There is a conga line, a reception line, a pick-up line, a lifeline, and of course a roaring line :) . If you are a poet, you decide which words to put in the line. You decide how many words to use.
How do you decide which words to use and how many?
That is the poetry part.
What is a simile and what is a metaphor?
People often find it difficult to distinguish between simile and metaphor. This is understandable.
If you arrange the words
On a page
So that everything
Is that a poem?
Yes, that is an undergraduate poem.
How do you know what a poem means?
You decide what the poem means to you. But you are probably wrong. You are probably missing like seventeen literary allusions, twelve mythological references, and some parable stolen from the Bible. And as if that isn’t enough, poets go out of their way to use fancy, archaic words like “dovecote." Do you know what a dovecote is? I didn’t think so.
Does writing poetry require research?
Don’t be crazy! Haven’t you ever heard of “poetic license?”
Can you make any money writing poetry?
Hell yeah, you can! Just look at T.S. Eliot! How many years did Cats run on Broadway?! I wish I got those royalty checks. But most poets make their money explaining poetry to people who don’t “get” poetry. And happily there is no shortage of those people.
How do you get published?
Ideally, your former college roommate works at the New Yorker. If that is not the case, many writing guides recommend that before submitting your poems, you first sample a variety of literary magazines. But this is nonsense. Who wants to read a bunch of literary magazines? Get a copy of The Writers’ Market and strafe every literary magazine in America.
SUGGESTED READSDone in Pen: The Poems of New York Times Puzzle Editor Will Shortz
by Kevin Guilfoile (9/19/2000)
A Spoken-Word Poem for America
by Neal Pollack (10/18/2000)
All The Beautiful Flowers
by Jimmy Chen (3/5/2003)
RECENTLYThe First Black Friday, by William Bradford
by River Clegg (11/27/2015)
Black Friday Special: Common Retail Questions Answered With Deeper Questions
by Kate Hahn (11/27/2015)
Butterball Help-Line Help-Line
by Alysia Gray Painter (11/25/2015)
POPULARThe Four Horsemen of Gentrification
by Zain Khalid (11/3/2015)
Monologue: An Extremely Pregnant Woman Has a Few Questions for the Motherhood Maternity Customer Service Desk
by Amy Rolph (8/4/2015)
Monologue: As Your Governor, I Will Protect You From Mass Shooters If They Are Syrian
by Pete Reynolds (11/18/2015)