Thursday, April 26, 2018

Why every writer should read poetry

Because poetry is about rhythm and cadence.

Because poetry is about looking at everyday objects from a different angle.

Because poetry asks hard questions about our lives.

Because poetry isn't only what's on the page, it's how it's on the page.

Because poetry isn't just the words chosen, it's also the words not chosen.


I love to read poetry.
Not all poetry of course.
Some poems make me feel stupid.
I gave myself permission to quit reading those poems and move on to the next one.

Some poems bewilder me.
I read those twice.
Sometimes I say them out loud (lemme tell ya, THAT gets people moving away from you on a crowded subway car.)

Some poems take my breath away.
I read those a lot more than twice.

Some poems make me laugh.
I memorize those if I can.


Poetry speaks to us on a level beyond words.

Poetry is good for you; and it's not even green.

Here's the poem that prompted this blog post.

Wonder Woman Shops at the A&P

To satisfy her radiant-orange
appetite, Diana collects jars
of marmalade with crystallized
peels suspended in sugar, frozen
cylinders of citrus, two pounds
of organic carrots, a pumpkin.
Click-click, click-click, her scarlet
boots tap tiles as she grabs
packages with scents that hint:
ginger, juices, salmon, steak.
Her cart flashes with boxes
of orange pekoe, tangerines,
a sack of yams, apricots rolling
about, chunks of cheddar
and colby, peaches, peppers
the color of koi. At an aisle's end,
her bracelets clink against cool
glass as she selects sunflowers
for her table, their goldenrod
bonnets the texture of night.

--Christine Stewart-Nunez (untrussed and other poems: UNM Press)


Lisa Bodenheim said...

Mmmm. What a lovely space.

Thank you for sharing.

Susan said...

This post and the poem are both beautiful. I love the rhythm and selection of words. That's what enthralls me about poetry--the selection of words, how each and every one has a purpose, layering one on top of the other to create glorious meaning and music.

Thanks for this, Janet!

Timothy Lowe said...

Speaking of poems, there's a poem I love that reminds me very much of James Leisenring's ff entry this week, after I reread the entry with fresh eyes and figured out what it was about (at least I think).

It's called "A Martian Sends a Postcard Home":

Fair warning - you will have to read it a few times. "Caxtons" are books.

Great entry, James! Very creepy.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

A million times yes to everything in this post.

Sharyn Ekbergh said...

I love this!

Unknown said...

I like Philip Larkin's poem "Talking In Bed" and Nikki Giovanni's "We're Going to Mars" (I found the 2nd one only thanks to Janet's post).

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Two points

Poetry scares me. Because I don't often understand the structure I feel like a ninny. So I read, try to figure it out, and almost always feel like a roses are red, violets are blue second grader who'd rather be reading Capt. Underpants.

Regarding this post,
I do love orange. I mean I LOVE orange. I don't wear it, or often eat it but it surrounds me. My passion for orange means that I believe something wonderful is about to happen like:
Lottery tickets?
Test results?
Weight loss?
A sunny day?
I'm still waiting for a sunny day.
Go orange!

Unknown said...

In High School, my AP English teacher made us write poems and we thought it was kind of silly. After all, the test required us to analyze poetry, not write it. But looking back, that not only got me interested in writing again for the first time in a few years, but it made me a much better writer. I am very thankful for that experience

Colin Smith said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Colin Smith said...

So many words
Tens of hundreds
Waiting for judgment day.
But like the ax that never falls
The dentist delayed
The shoe suspended in mid descent
The words are left wondering

"O leisenring mora-summonte and seese
O bobrow and others, how long, if you please?
Don't leave us suspended like querying writers
An end! A result! And a prize for the fighters!"


Unknown said...

And thanks for sharing that, Timothy Love! That's a very neat little poem. Actually my entry was partly inspired by the fact that I'd recently listened to War of the Worlds, and also just started listening to the Left Hand of Darkness. Listening to those authors often feels like listening to poetry.

Though the biggest inspiration (or thievery) of my entry was the Twlight Zone episode "To Serve Man" which I also found out is based on a short story of the same name. Yay for short fiction in all of its forms!

Unknown said...

P.S. "Harlem" by Langston Hughes is also one of my favorites. "What happens to a dream deferred?" That's a great question...

Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

I do love poetry, but tend toward the classics, Shakespeare, Keats, Byron, Poe, Tennyson, Shelley, Bronte, etc.

I did a blue pencil session with a poet at a conference once just so we could discuss how she chose words. Rhythm and word choice are very important. I've changed the first lines in Rain Crow because technically the grammar is more correct another way, but it's driving me a little bonkers because it throws the whole cadence off kilter.

PS, I love this whole post. thank you for mentioning this. I hope you've recovered from the conference.

Amy Schaefer said...

I’d add that it’s important for every writer to read poetry aloud. That is when you really get a sense of the rhythm of the language.

And that obviously extends to prose, too. So many of the brambles and snarls in what we write only become clear when we hear them spoken.

Lennon Faris said...

I have a shamefully low love of poetry. I'm guessing it's because I just haven't read enough/ the right ones, because there have been a few that have made me lose my breath.

The other day I thought of something I read in middle school. I remembered that it was about bugs (a cockroach??) and still somehow gave me a bittersweet feeling. Huh? And also, I remembered the name "Archy."

I Googled those small pieces of info and found it immediately. So this is a poem that stuck with me for years:

Sam Mills said...

I didn't appreciate poetry OR short stories (and they can be so connected) until I read Catherynne M. Valente's combo collection "The Melancholy of Mechagirl." *runs off to reread*

Sherry Howard said...

Alongside my deep dive study of writing, I’ve studied poetry. I’ve had some published now, so I think I can say I’m a poet, although those words are harder to utter than I’m a writer. I couldn’t agree more with today’s post. Poetry for writers is like ballet for football players—it enhances the movement.

Donnaeve said...

While I have an infatuation with Sylvia Plath - it's not for her poetry. (Btw, Ariel has been restored to its original formatting, with the selection of poems arranged in the manner Plath wanted)

I too, have never cared much for poetry, and it's because I don't understand the different ways of writing it, much less what is said. It's usually too "literary" and I'm left stumped.

BUT. The poem shared here didn't read like poetry. It read like a very well written paragraph of a novel. If all poetry was like this - I could read it all day long.

Timothy Lowe said...

James - love that Twilight Zone Episode. I also love "Time Enough at Last" - reminds me of the TBR pile of a lot of us reef dwellers.

Timothy Lowe said...

Donna - Info please on "Ariel"! I teach Plath as our major IB poet!

John Levins said...

Thanks for this post, I am not a poetry reader but you've convinced me I need to start. I love the Wonder Woman poem, the contrast of a super hero doing normal everyday grocery shopping is great!

french sojourn said...

There are poets that I try to re-read, but there are also musical poets like Paul Weller of The Jam, "That's entertainment," an all time favorite urban decay poem. The music that accompanies it is also sublime. (Some of Costello's work as well.) I've always lived for lyrics, and blame that for my love of writing.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...

Many, many years ago, when I was a seven year old girl in my rural town in my third world country, the poem "Trees" by Joyce Kilmer started me on a promiscuous relationship with the English language. The rhythm,the rhyming words.

Poems still intimidate me. I tend towards the more accessible ones like Emily Dickinson's. This Wonder Woman poem is gorgeous, had me reminiscing about my first time...

I think that I shall never see...

Brenda Buchanan said...

Thank you for that lovely poem, Janet. I could not agree more about the many benefits of reading poetry.

I offer in exchange one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems, which resonates especially this late and welcome spring in Maine:

In the north country now it is spring and there
Is a certain celebration. The thrush
Has come home. He is shy and likes the
Evening best, also the hour just before
Morning; in that blue and gritty light he
Climbs to his branch, or smoothly
Sails there. It is okay to know only
One song if it is this one. Hear it
Rise and fall; the very elements of you should
Shiver nicely. What would spring be
Without it? Mostly frogs. But don’t worry, he

Arrives, year after year, humble and obedient
And gorgeous. You listen and you know
You could live a better life than you do, be
Softer, kinder. And maybe this year you will
Be able to do it. Hear how his voice
Rises and falls. There is no way to be
Sufficiently grateful for the gifts we are
Given, no way to speak the Lord’s name
Often enough, though we do try, and

Especially now, as that dappled breast
Breathes in the pines and heaven’s
Windows in the north country,
Now spring has come,
Are opened wide.

Craig F said...

I am in Cecelia's boat. The newer poetry is tough for me to understand. I am from a simpler school. If I could write poetry I might be able to understand it better, but I am hopeless when it comes to rhyme and scansion.

Timothy: The compilation "Ariel" came out two years after Plath's death. It was edited by Ted Hughes and twelve of the original poems were removed. Those works have been restored.

I am sure you already know that Hughes was not exactly a standup character.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for posting this...It's National Poetry Month, and I've been writing and blogging about poetry all month! As a poet, the literary landscape is a challenge to navigate...and for some reason, it's super tough for poets to get agents...wait, is it money?! I kid. I kid. My point is that I'm grateful you've posted about the power of poetry. We take our jobs very seriously, us poets! Holding up mirrors to the world/humanity and writing about it in ways that directly connect to hearts and souls. So, thanks!

Claire Bobrow said...

...a poem lovely as a tree. (I had to complete that one, Cecilia. Great choice!)

The Wonder Woman poem lassoed me right in, Ka-Pow! What beautiful language - it makes me shiver with happiness.

Mrs. Karen McGahey, best 4th grade teacher ever, instilled a love of poetry in me. But like Janet, some poetry makes me feel, shall we say, "under-qualified" to understand it. In recent months I've discovered the poems of Janet Wong, now a favorite. Her book "A Suitcase Full of Seaweed" is astonishing.

Colin: :-)

Beth Carpenter said...

I love the Wonder Woman poem about orange. Thanks for the nudge. I confess I never seek out poetry, probably because most of the ones I stumble across seem angsty and self-indulgent. And yet I can still recite most of "I'll tell you how the sun rose" which I learned, hmm, forty-three years ago. And “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.” And then there's Green Eggs and Ham. That counts, yes?

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


"The Wonder Woman poem lassoed me right in". Lol good one.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest...

Steve Stubbs said...

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Great post today
A hearty Thank You.

Brenda said...

There once was an agent named shark
Who rode home from work in the dark
She sat all alone
On her subway throne
Cause the passengers thought she was stark

JeriWB said...

I'd go as far to say EVERYONE should read poetry! I don't read or write it often enough, but I should because it's a great way to shake my writing world up at times. When I taught high school, I fought really hard to keep poetry units in the classes I taught and did all kinds of fun assignments that students loved. Language can be so fun to play with, and poetry can help remind us of that. Words, words, words... such power they can convey!

Claire Bobrow said...

...Against the earth's sweet flowing breast.

You just did that to make me write "breast," didn't you Cecilia? :-)

ps - good article on Lithub today: "When, Exactly, Do Children Start Thinking They Hate Poetry?" Lithub,

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Good article. I also want my kids to be into poetry. I wonder if I could adopt the same approach I did with making them like vegetables. Didn't force it on them but we set by example. Then we waited. Around early adolescence was when they came around. Poetry might take much much longer.

This is my third and last comment. Let's go for the big finish, Claire!

Poems are made by fools like me...

Claire Bobrow said...

...But only God can make a tree!

(with apologies to Joyce Kilmer for the final exclamation point)

Karen McCoy said...

This is why I'm a fan of books in verse. Ellen Hopkins and Kristin Elizabeth Clark are some great authors to check out.

Michael Seese said...

"On Writing In Coffeeshops"

(A response to "On Not Writing In Cafes" by Adrienne Su)

Blatant exhibitionism:
public display of erudition,
or "PDE." Bringing your art
out, where characters and plot lines hide.

It's exhilarating. Choosing
from the menu board of sensations:
The java smells, the conversation hum,
the visage kaleidoscope.

You put down the pen and dream into
a stranger's words, tics, gestures, or silence.
And then it happens. The muse--elusive,
flirty, coy--has pulled up a chair.

Donnaeve said...

Hi Timothy!

It's actually "old" news, the restored version came out a few years ago - but I only just heard of it in the past couple of days.

You can read about it here:

Ariel Restored

I hope it helps!

MA Hudson said...

Michael - ‘the muse...has pulled up a chair’.

I love that. The smell of coffee, the warmth of community, and the sound of gentle chit chat never fails to inspire me... as well as escaping the muse-mauling sight of grubby clothes, dirty dishes, and bountiful dust bunnies!

Janice L. Grinyer said...

That was beautiful.

I like when poetry touches that part of your soul that you usually keep hidden, and away.

I also like writing poetry, when my soul wants to release words that need to be free.

Thank you for sharing that, JR!

Megan V said...

I care not for verse
I think it a curse
And I loathe every bothersome ballad.

Thus, I cannot agree
To adore poetry
So I think of it much like a salad.*

*There are exceptions to this mild complaint
Here's a loud shoutout to BLOOD, WATER, PAINT

A said...

Oh, Brenda Buchanan, that’s extraordinary. Thank you. I need to read more Mary Oliver. I tend toward Edna St Vincent Millay myself—I post a monthly poem on my writing blog (, though moving means I’m a couple of months behind. I think this has to be April’s, though. It’s perfect.

This is Brigid, though I can’t figure out how to log in on my husband’s phone!

LynnRodz said...

Busy day yesterday, coming late, but thank you, Janet, for sharing such a beautiful poem. I fell in love with poetry when I first read Wordsworth's, Intimations of Immortality back in the Dark Ages when I was a freshman in high school. Then a few years later, I discovered Rod McKuen and someone else, I can't remember his name, but their collection of poems were bestsellers during that time.

I don't write much free verse when I write poetry. It's the only time my mind is somewhat disciplined, so I write mostly couplets, patoums, or quatrains.