Wednesday, November 12, 2008


We don't often talk about it on this blog, because we mostly focus on novels, etc. Poetry is one of the best art forms out there; I actually specialized in it, in college. And it makes me sad, nowadays, that schools don't seem to be teaching it as much because there are some parts of which are simply pure lovely. Plus, I'll be upfront and say that there really isn't much money in poetry. =)

I have about twenty poems that will probably never see the light of day in a published magazine because I can't ever seem to find someone to publish them. They're not speculative; they're just poems, mainstream ones, if a poem can be called mainstream literature at all. I'd gladly release some under a creative commons license, but there doesn't seem to be much of a point in doing that.

And I didn't mean to discuss which poems I love, but then I was reading the Yarn Harlot today, and she reminded me of "In Flanders Fields", which I'll copy for you below. I've loved that poem since I was a little girl, and figured out that L. M. Montgomery had based Walter's poem on it in RILLA OF INGLESIDE.

The text of the poem is below:

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

And this is a link to more information about the poet and the story behind the poem. I'm sure all you Canadians know this already. =)

Additional info about "In Flanders Fields".

My question to you guys is twofold:

One, what do you think of poetry in general? It's certainly not a dying art form, but it makes me sad that it's not taught as much as it used to be.

Two, which poets do you like?

Among my favorites are Dylan Thomas, Mary Oliver, and Pablo Neruda.


BJ said...

While I don't mind some free-form poetry, I really prefer the metered rhyming poetry. Unfortunately, this seems to have lost favour in today's world. Most journals or magazines that publish poetry explicitly say 'no rhyming poetry', as though it's something unseemly and wrong. I know it can be difficult to do it properly, but shouldn't that mean it should be supported when a poet *can* do it well?

Favourite poets include Robert W. Service, E. E. Cummings, and Tennyson (The Charge of the Light Brigade is durn exciting!).

And, yeah, I think most Canadians can recite at least the first few lines of In Flanders Fields. We hear it several times just before and on Remembrance Day (which was yesterday, November 11). It's read at most Remembrance Day services - a fitting honour and a sharp reminder of what this day is about. The poppy has become our symbol of remembrance.

DFortier said...

BJ has a point about the metered, rhyming poetry. Some of my favorites fall into that, and if people say it's no good, I point them to the classics.

Favorite poems are "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" by John Keats, and "She Walks in Beauty" by Lord Byron. Of course my favorite poets are almost any of the romantics. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Oh, and old English ballads and battle hymns. Yummy.

Most of my work is sappy, and thus, rarely leaves my computer to venture forth into the world.

Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

I'll tell you why poetry isn't "popular." It's because English teachers who were rude and nasty, had ruined the fun of Shakespeare and poetry in high school and made it hell for the rest of us students.

er, from my experiences anyway...

some of my favourite poets are dead Sufi poets from Iran and the Indian subcontinent.

AC said...

I hate to say this, but I think poetry may have lost some of its allure simply because there's so much bad poetry out there.

IMO, when poetry is good, it's GOOD. And when it's makes me want to stab things into my head.

I don't have a specific favorite, though a reliable place for good poetry is the daily Writer's Almanac e-mail :)

Diane T said...

I agree with the idea that bad poetry spoils the genre for a lot of people, but I think another reason why poetry seems on the decline is that it takes (or we think it takes) more concentration than we're willing to commit in this short-attention-span-culture. It's ironic, because poems are generally short, but they're concentrated little bits of literature that require a bit of deep thought--or at least, that's what a lot of people are taught in school when they are forced to analyze a poem to death. They've learned that you can't "skim" a poem, so who wants to think that hard? It's too bad, because really good poetry can inspire and spark ideas without a ton of effort.

I second Pablo Neruda as a favorite, and William Blake and William Butler Yeats are also high on my list.

Ryan Field said...

Love poetry, and Edna St. Vincent Millay in particular...

"My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light."

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "A Few Figs from Thistles", 1920
US poet (1892 - 1950)

Jenny Jill said...

I had marvellous teachers. I took English Lit. courses in University - that is when you can really dig into the literature with like-minded spirits.
I love E.E. Cummings' Archy the cockroach, since I was a 'good girl' - with a mother who was a drill sergeant re: punctuation and grammar, he tickled my fancy.

Tiger, by William Blake inspired a poem of my own. (Published in an anthology onceuponatime!)

Working with elementary school kids really encouraged the fun in language.
Thoughtful question. Thank you.

Kristine Overbrook said...

I tend not to read poetry. It could be because when I was in school we had instructors ask us the meaning of poems. I was almost always "wrong."

I thought you were supposed to reflect on it and take from it what you will.

I can't really enjoy poetry because I worry that I'm misinterpreting it.

Jenny Rappaport said...

Ooh, what a great discussion you guys are having!

I think that poems don't have to have a "meaning" necessarily. Or rather, there is no one correct meaning for many poems. Poems are really very layered little creatures, and they are complex works of literature, but that's what makes them fun.

Basically, you can read them at face value, or you can spend the time really analyzing one, but I think you get a good experience from either one.

Plus, they're wonderful little creatures of language that really teach you how to use the words you have economically.

lotusloq said...

I liked poetry in high school, but I think for most of it I was too immature to understand them and I was intimidated by them.

In college I did a lot of poetry writing and especially in my creative writing class. My final project there was a sheaf of poems.

I think it's a shame that we don't do more with poetry.

I love all the old favorites: Shakespeare, Blake, Byron, Frost, etc. In more recent times I especially like Archibald MacLeish and Billy Collins ("The Lanyard" makes me laugh and cry at the same time.)

BJ said...

I think good poetry should be read at face value, with that conscious meaning, while the subconscious meaning just kind of drifts into your awareness. This meaning is not really meant to be said out loud, and it takes training to do this, like you have to train yourself to do lucid dreaming. You don't have to do this though -- the meaning will touch you subliminally.

It's when you *try* to dredge the subconscious meaning out of a poem that a poem becomes work rather than an art form. And it's when you *try* to put too much meaning into a poem that it becomes difficult to read -- like cluttering a painting with too many objects. The best poems have simple meanings brought out in a subconscious manner. And the subconscious meaning you get from a poem may be different from one someone else gets, because it touches you and your experience differently.

At least, that's how I see poetry. Of course, I like rhyming, metered poetry, so my views are probably crass and passe.

Ryan Field said...

"Plus, they're wonderful little creatures of language that really teach you how to use the words you have economically."

Good point. Word economy is important and often overlooked.

Jenny Rappaport said...

Deaf Brown Trash Punk, as I know very little about dead Iranian poets or poetry from the Indian subcontinent, who do you recommend?

Damon said...

Most of my work is non-fiction but I sometimes dash off a quick piece. (T.S. Eliot was once asked about the value of modern poetry. His reply: 'It takes up less space.')

This one was published in Overland, a few years ago. I don't think it's a particularly good poem, but I was happy that the editor disagreed.

Howard Watches the Oscars and Weeps with Joy

"And the Oscar (TM)..."
Lipstick and rouge. Double-sided tape. Cynicism.
"goes to..."
Cash. Narcissism.
"George Bush Junior,
Saddam Hussein, and
Tony Blair..."
Smiles. Close-ups of pregnant actresses.
"for Best Screenplay in an Animated Documentary."
Gushing. Producers thanked.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

I agree with the comments about school often turning people off to classics like poetry. Why ask the student to interpret a work if you're just going to tell them what the "correct" interpretation is? I have a hard time commenting on other writers' poetry because of the lingering feeling that I'm wrong no matter what.

I do like poetry for expressing broad, universal ideas in an elegant way, though. My favourite poem is by Emily Dickinson:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant---
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind---

Ryan Field said...

And let's not forget about Khalil Gibran, who has inspired so many writers.

Karen said...

Rilla of Ingleside -- Is this the book where she stops at Walter's bedside one night and sees a shadow of a cross over his head, foreshadowing the unnamed marker somewhere in France? I'm having a flashback to crying my eyes out as a kid. I could never read the Anne books after that scene.
And I loved the Anne books.
But I suppose that is what comes of being overly sensitive.

So of course, I love poetry.

Dare I confess that as a kid I also read (and memorized) The Highwayman?

In college I read way too many of the Romantics. I still don't like Byron. Then my roommate and I laughed like crazy during a class where the prof read Rochester's "A Ramble in St. James's Park". Later I bought a book on the Restoration poets -- because it had more Rochester. It also had Robert Herrick -- obscure but wonderful. Compassion, a sense of humor, and an appreciation of sex that includes an appreciation of women. Exactly what I want in a man. Pity he is dead.
But he left behind poems like, "Delight in Disorder"
Delightful indeed.

Jenny Rappaport said...

Karen, yep, that's the book!

And in his last letter back home, which may have been to Una(Uma?) or to Rilla or to Anne, I can't remember which, he sends back the poem he writes in the trenches. And then he dies in battle.

Lexie said...

I like poetry, not as much as I used to, but still I read it from time to time. I don't really read any certain poets--I'll flip through literary journals and read the poems in there and save them or pick up poetry anthologies and read the poems that way...I read a lot of Japanese haikus and tankas however.

Merry Monteleone said...

I think I might have gotten off easier than some of you in literary analysis, because I had very open minded teachers and because I really enjoyed it.

I remember reading My Papa's Waltz by Roethke in high school, not because I was very enamored of the poem but because of the wide difference in reactions that my class had. The teacher tended toward viewing it as a simple bedtime ritual, which some of the class agreed with, but then a few students believed it was alluding to child abuse.

What I took from this class, due I think in large part to a great English teacher, is that the reader brings their own world view to the work. What the reader puts into a poem is as valid as what the writer intended. It's one of the things I love most about literary discussion.

When I was taking my fiction writing coursework, I took a class on poetry. THe first day, the instructor wrote "No Rhyming" on the board in bold letters and went on to explain that he viewed rhyming poetry as completely invalid. I dropped the class the next day.

I think all forms of poetry are valid, and I can't wrap my mind around an instructor overlooking large portions of our literary past in favor of its present... you should be able to study both.

My favorites tend to be Poe (I like his poetry even better than his short stories) and Tennyson... so you can see why I dropped the class:-)

GReat discussion.

tkersh said...

Wow... everybody's stuck back in English Class! For spiritual poems, I love William Stafford (try "A Ritual to Read to Each Other" and "Great Blue Herron", both Google-able) and David Whyte.

Robert Bly et al's collection "The Rag And Bone Shop of The Heart" has an incredible variety of poems from many different poets.

My favorite dead Sufi poets are Hafiz and Rumi.

Shlomster said...

As a published poet and a former president of the Austin International Poetry Festival, I have a natural bias towards the form. I have heard poems that left me weeping. Bad poetry, however, is everywhere. Even with “good” poetry, what might make me cry in empathy might bore someone else to tears.

I write some -- but don't like -- haiku. It's overused, frequently written outside the rigid rules. Worse, the critics of the style are, IMHO, introverted navel gazers acting as high priests for an exclusive cult.

A really well done sonnet is fun, but Pope and Donne have written great, short zingers. e.e. cummings was brilliant, and I use a similar white space style to help phrase some of my poems (check out for an example).

Blake and Frost have my vote for overall favorites: the former for his passion (and ability to create and color copper plates -- OCD? You decide: The latter for his ability to shade with emotion, color with words. (I know, to each their own...)

One of the greatest blessings of this generation was the $100 million bequest by Ruth Lily to the Poetry Foundation ( I hope, despite the current economic climate, that their long-term efforts to bring poetry back into the mainstream will encourage better poets to publish, and raise the bar of what is considered acceptable poetry.

Chumplet - Sandra Cormier said...

I always liked the rhythmic quality of Robert Frost. My favourite is Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. It pretty much sums up a Canadian winter.

Do Americans wear poppies the first weeks of November?

LJCohen said...

Rumors of poetry's demise have been greatly exaggerated. :) Actually, poetry is alive, well, and thriving on the net. I'm the head moderator of Wild Poetry Forum ( which is a large internet-based poetry workshop board. We are a member board of the IBPC, the InterBoard Poetry Community.

Spoken word venues are also thriving, every where from High schools to local coffee shops and book stores. And then there's the Dodge Poetry festival in NJ every other year that draws thousands and thousands of poets and lovers of poetry. (Bill Moyers did a PBS special on it one year called "Fooling with Words").

My favorite poets include Jane Kenyon ("Otherwise" brings tears to my eyes every time I read it), Ted Kooser, and Mary Oliver. You can't beat Patricia Smith for the pure power of the spoken word (she's up for a major award this year and has some of her performance on youtube. "Skinhead" is intense and gives me the chills).

I've had the good fortune to run poetry workshops with kids, ranging from 4th graders to high school and I find them enormously receptive and inventive with language. It's a matter of getting them past the dry wring-out-all-meaning-from-poetry kind of teaching and back to the appreciation of the pure magic and music of language.

Howard Shirley said...

I am a fan of old-style metered rhyming poetry, particularly old narrative poems with a bit of adventure to them. But then I grew up on a healthy diet of Robert Louis Stevenson and Tolkien (not to mention A.A. Milne).

Unfortunately, this style has fallen by the wayside. When I looked for a place to publish my own such work, I couldn't even find a magazine to query!

So I just put it on my blog here. (Yeah, shameless plug.)

I wish there were more "adventure poetry" out there (my term). I might have to write it.

BJ said...

Tell me about it. I actually did get a couple such poems published - sort of. It was a charity anthology, and I think they included every poem they received. It was a print book, but it also included a CD-ROM which held hundreds more poems than in the book.

My poems made it to the CD-ROM. No rhyming poetry made it into the book itself. A lot of what *did* make it into the book was sheer dross. I'd rather have been rejected outright.

Mr. Shirley, if you do find a good market for adventure poetry as you describe, let me know. Please.

Responsible Artist said...

I did not read poetry for pleasure until turning forty. Poets I think much of (Enough to buy their books) include David St. John , Yusef komunyakaa , Joseph Millar , Dorianne Laux , and Galway Kinnell , Lucille Clifton . My list could go on but I'll stop here. But I'm not a poet so I mostly like stuff that sounds beautiful and I understand it, even if I don't know why.