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What counts as a poem? And could you write one?
Poetry month musings plus TONS of writing links and resources
*For writing news and resources, scroll down*
Stop what you’re doing and read a poem!
It’s April, National Poetry Month! I don’t read much poetry, but every time I do, I’m glad I did. For example, I recently read the short and brilliant poem “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith (as well as her article about how her marriage was never the same after that poem went viral — both worth a read.)
I think reading poetry is so enriching for us prose writers, and we should all do it more often so we can learn how to choose our words carefully, write evocative descriptions, and add more rhythm and flow to our prose.
I do not consider myself a poet, and yet I write the occasional poem. I’ve even gotten a few published. This micro-poem of mine was published a million years ago by Hoot Review. They even illustrated it and put it on a postcard:
To the end
Of the animal cracker bag.
And all that was left
Was a handful of legs.
Short and sweet, just how I like my poetry. That’s the thing about poems. They don’t have to be long or complicated or high-brow. To me, poetry is less about telling a story (thought it certainly can) and more about evoking a feeling or creating an image in the reader’s mind. Poems can help us see something in a different way, through a different lens. Writing poetry is like a painting a picture with words, being playful and inventive with language. Poems can shock us, make us laugh or cry.
Like art, a poem can be almost anything.
Here’s one I wrote for Burlesque Press:
This Is Not a Poem
This is not a poem.
It contains no image, rhyme, or meaning.
It is not a metaphor for my life.
It is honestly not worth reading.
When is it time to write a poem?
I find I want to write a poem when:
I’m feeling blocked or frustrated with my longer writing projects.
I’m feeling creative yet unorganized and want to sit down and see what flows out of me.
When I think of an interesting image, idea, or metaphor that isn’t enough for an entire story but is just right for a poem.
I want to give something special to someone special. (I’ve written poems for my husband and friends on birthdays and anniversaries.)
I get ideas all the time, and some of those ideas are the jumping off points for a novel or a short story, while others are smaller, more visual, or more abstract — just right for a poem.
For example, the other night my husband made himself a bowl of popcorn, and I thought about how some people call the unpopped kernels “old maids,” and that seemed like a good jumping off point for a poem that could combine images of popcorn kernels with images and ideas of being an “old maid.”
Despite getting a few poems published, I don’t think my poetry is very good. (If you want a good poet, go check out my amazing friend Dawn Manning, poet and metalsmith.) But let this be evidence that YOU, yes you, can write poems and maybe even get them published. Because if I can do it, literally anyone can.
And I will say that writing a poem, no matter what becomes of it, can make me feel really happy and help me get back in touch with my creative side. Never a bad thing.
How to write a found poem:
If you want to try writing a poem but feel unsure how to get started, try a found poem. I adore found poems. You take a written document and carefully choose words and phrases from it to create your own poem. You can move the phrases around, add your own words. Like creating a collage with other people’s words, turning them into something surprising and new.
You can use a page in a book, lyrics to your favorite songs, or even the side effects of your antidepressant medication, like the amazing found poem Claude Olsen shared at a recent Writers Center open mic night.
Since it was recently the anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death (April 5), I will share a found poem I wrote many years ago that was also published by Burlesque Press. A good portion of the poem is created from Nirvana lyrics, written by Kurt himself.
An Ode to Kurt Cobain (a found poem)
I’ll start this off without any words,
Like a Zen Master who’s already heard
The call of the deep smoking marijuana,
Who’s reached his own sort of Nirvana.
You lived in your dark parasitic womb.
Bruises on the fruit, tender age in bloom.
Test meat, you know you’re right,
But I can’t see you every night.
Angel hair and baby’s breath,
More alive after your death.
A koan for us to meditate on;
Paradox found in every song.
The way I do, I would lose my soul.
Finished now; go wash your bowl.
You will crawl away for good,
Were you so very misunderstood?
You will never speak again,
No longer hiding in your skin.
Maybe nature is a dirty whore:
Nothing that hasn’t been said before.
I find it hard; it’s hard to find;
The thoughts they fail me every time.
Another word that rhymes with shame:
We will never forget your name.
If you want more poems
“Chicken Skin,” which is about an old hag cooking a chicken
“Sweet Tummy,” which is about body image issues
“How to Reach Me,” which is a freaking weird and awesome poem that I swear came directly into my head by a muse. I sat down at the computer and it poured out of me from nowhere, and to this day I’m amazed and a little freaked out by the whole thing.
“In the Mornings,” which is a dream I wrote in my head one day in the bathroom when I was a high school teacher and didn’t have time for any other kind of writing.
Now, be off with you and go read or write a poem or two.
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Writing News & Resources
For All Writers:
Apply by April 14 to Story Board, a weeklong writing intensive for writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
I enjoyed this profile in The Atlantic about the incredible Judy Blume and continue to be excited that the movie version of Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret comes out April 28.
I love the concept of this very cool and affordable writer-voted contest for fiction and poetry from Sixfold.
Check out this free webinar on April 19 from Mary Kole of The Good Story Company: Writing Irresisitible First Pages. Open to novel and memoir writers of all genres and includes live critiques of attendee’s pages.
Also from The Good Story: a free webinar on April 20: The “It” Factor: How to Make Your Story Stand Out with author Rhiannon Richardson.
Don’t have a lot of time? The 100-word micro-fiction writing challenge/contest from NYC Midnight kicks off on April 28.
Check out all of these free replays of recent online events with agents and authors from The Manuscript Academy.
I updated my list of writing and publishing resources — my very favorite books, websites, and podcasts and writing, publishing, and creative life.
Hoping to create a regular writing habit or maybe start a novel? Learn about my do-it-on-your-own-time courses for paid subscribers: Cultivating a Regular Writing Routine and Getting Started on Your Novel.
For KidLit Writers:
Writing a MG, YA, or chapter book? With the 2023 Novel-in-Development Award from Write Mentor you can receive feedback on your opening pages with the chance to win a year’s worth of mentoring from a published author. Open to both unfinished and completed manuscripts. Deadline to enter: May 14, 2023.
Also from Write Mentor: their 2023 Mentoring Program that matches published authors with children’s fiction writers to support their craft development and writing careers. Application window for mentees will be open from April 12 to April 14.
The Highlight's Foundation is offering two sessions of the Whole Novel Workshop: a life-changing in-person retreat with amazing faculty members for those with a full novel manuscript they want to workshop.
From Bitsy Kemper’s blog: over 75 publishers accepting unsolicited picture book manuscripts — updated February 2023!
Check out this incredible list of upcoming events for KidLit writers!
For Querying Writers:
Every Friday, Operation Awesome offers one free query critique through their #QueryFriday contest.
Twitter is a little different in these Elon Musk days, but Twitter pitch contests continue to happen, and though they can be frustrating, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try. (After all, I found my agent through a Twitter pitch party. I am now an official success story.) So mark your calendar for these upcoming Twitter pitch parties. And be sure to read my article 13 Things to Know About Twitter Pitch Events.
The Writing Day Workshop “How to Get Published” Conferences will held both online and in person this year. I attended one of these conferences in person a few years ago, and I thought it was fantastic. I can’t vouch for the virtual version, but there are some benefits: recorded classes, no travel expenses, attend in your comfy pants. Plus, you can sign up for pitch sessions with agents for $29 a piece. Check out the upcoming conferences:
Philadelphia Writing Workshop: April 22, 2023 (in-person)
San Diego Writing Workshop: April 29, 2023 (in-person)
Michigan Writing Workshop: April 29, 2023 (in-person)
Seattle Writing Workshop: April 29, 2023 (in-person)
Writing Conference of Los Angeles: May 13, 2023 (in-person)
The Washington Writers Conference will be held in Bethesda, MD May 12-13.
For all those in the DC-MD-VA area, mark your calendars for the FREE Gaithersburg Book Festival on May 20. I’ll be there, and I’ll be teaching a workshop class at noon on using setting to increase mood and suspense.
Working on a thriller, mystery, or crime fiction? Check out ThrillerFest in NYC, May 30-June 3.
For more writing conferences, check out this list or this list of 19 Writing Conferences for Emerging and Established Writers.