Do you ever struggle to figure out what a poem means or how to approach writing one?
I’ve always loved poetry so when I studied for my MFA, I attended every poetry workshop that I could, even though it wasn’t my focus in the program.
One of my favorite classes was a master class by poet and teacher Matthew Shenoda.
One of Shenoda’s tips was to read poetry conceptually. He suggested we ask ourselves these questions:
Unlike visual artists or sculptors, poets don’t often talk about the way individual pieces fit into the whole of their work. Maybe the reason some poets hesitate to talk about this process is because, like writing a poem, they are following the instincts of their inner voice. Maybe their process is too close to them to place into words.
Fortunately, in Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems (Imagination, No. 11), edited by Susan Grimm, there now exists a collection of essays by poets who’ve done just that–put together their own books of poetry and survived.
All of the essays were invaluable in helping me order my own storm. I liked Liz Rosenberg’s advice, “I try to start a book with what I think of as a beautiful poem, and to end with a powerful philosophical poem. I think we do begin with beauty and end with wisdom….” I also liked Jeff Gundy’s idea of ending a collection of poetry with a poem that offers some “intimation of hope, some glimpse of shelter and safety in this dangerous world.” He includes the poem that ends his most recent book of poems, Deerflies, as an example. Read more