Sometimes you get to a certain point and you just don’t know what to do with a poem. You might have many drafts and you don’t know what’s working anymore. You’ve lost perspective. And on top of that, maybe you’re surrounded by a whole bunch of other discarded poems that aren’t working either and you’re getting different critiques and you don’t know who to believe and you’ve kind of lost your mind.
I’m going to give you an exercise to help you deal with that situation.
Many people say one of the best ways to deepen your craft is to read in your genre, so in this case, go out there and read poetry. But I’m going to make it a little more specific in order to help you be your own best poetry editor.
Exercise: Read three different literary magazines and find a poem in each one of them that you’re absolutely crazy about.
Now, what can you glean from these poems? How does searching for favourite poems help you?
- These poems hold a key to what you’re aiming for in your own poetry, what you’re ultimately trying to do, what your aesthetic is. And that is very important to understand in order to take an objective view of your poetry and where you’re going with it.
- You want to boost your confidence in the choices you’re making when it comes to your own poetry, right? Think back to when you were picking those three poems. You were probably very certain about what poems were working and what poems weren’t. So we really do have a sense of what we like, it’s just that when it comes to our own poems, we often lose that objectivity. That’s part of what reading can give you – that objective look that you can then take back into your own work.
- There’s also another benefit to doing this exercise. Are any of the three magazines (that you’ve found your favourite poems in) accepting submissions at the moment? If so, make a note of it. Maybe you want to submit there. Maybe they would be open to your poetry.
Learning More About Your Own Style/Aesthetic
Assess what your three favourite poems have in common. In what ways do they reflect what you’re trying to do in your poems? Pinpoint what you find truly compelling in these poems and consider how you might strengthen your own poems.
While You Were Searching for Your Favourite Poems…
Conversely, think back to the poems you passed on – the poems you decided weren’t your favourite. What led you to skip over a poem and move on to another one? Was the poem overstated? Did it lack tension? Was the poem about a subject that you have little to no interest in? Did you find the writing awkward? Was the writing too ornate, too plain? What made you roll your eyes and move on… Did you identify any bad choices the poet made that you now realize you’ve included in your poem(s)? Make notes about your impressions, before they slip away.
Now re-read some of your poems-in-progress with a more objective eye. Make any edits you deem necessary and then send those poems out!
Next month, I’m teaching an online workshop: “Gathering a Poem,” ideal for poets who want to enliven their process of generating new work. If you’re interested in finding out more, visit the Wychwood Writers Workshop.
The workshop includes a weekly lecture and practical exercises to generate new poems. In the final week, poets will have crafted three new polished poems from scratch and discovered new ways to generate work to integrate into their writing practice. Poets can expect to deepen their craft and get excited about their writing lives.
Start date: Thursday, April 4th
End date: Thursday, May 2nd
Duration: 4 weeks
Time: 2-3 hours per week
And watch for the Juniper – A Poetry Journal no fee submission call and editor interview here on Trish’s blog. Submissions open May 1!
You may also want to check out my previous guest blog post here:
Do you have something say about poetry? An essay on being a poet, tips for poets, or poetry you love? TrishHopkinson.com is now accepting pitches for guest blog posts.
Lisa Young is the founding editor of Juniper – A Poetry Journal, and the author of When the Earth (Quattro Books, poetry) and This Cabin (LyricalMyrical Press, poetry). She has published poems and short stories in several print and online publications, including Minola Review, Verse-Virtual, The Quilliad, the Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and in Diane Lockward’s new craft book, The Practicing Poet. Lisa lives in Toronto, where she works as a freelance editor and writer. Visit her author website for more information.