Saturday, September 13, 2014

Prompt #200 - What Does a Poem Need?

This week prompt is a follow-up to last week’s and all those wonderful poet-tips. 

So ... let's stay in revise/edit mode and begin by taking a look at a few ideas of what a poem needs to be a poem.

For starters, a poem needs
  1.  to be fresh and to have a dynamic sense of language;
  2.  to have a strong emotional center;
  3.  to engage readers, to be accessible;
  4. to require every one of its words—no more, no less;
  5. to avoid preachiness and sentimentality;
  6.  to steer clear of abstractions (to show, not tell);
  7.  to be clear even when complex;
  8.  to create an integrated whole of meaning, language, and form;
  9.  to startle, to connect even the unseen dots, to reveal;
  10.  to employ craft effectively and attend to the mechanics of verse while using the head as much as the heart;
  11. to have more than a single subject (the obvious, yes, but at least one other suggested and inherent);
  12. to “speak” with the ownership of the poet—both the poem and its contents, its emotional core, and its voice (the page may be silent, but readers must hear the poet’s voice).
  1. This week again, take a look at some of your previously-written poems and pick one that hasn’t quite worked for you, one that still needs “fixing."
  2. Using the checklist above, examine your poem analytically and see if it meets the criteria. If it doesn’t, ask yourself why not and work on it line-by-line to make improvements. 
  1. Go back to last week’s prompt and review the tips noted there. 
  2. Focus on one or two of last week's tips and apply them to your poem.
  3. In the process, you may think of some tips of your own. If you do, be sure to jot them down! 
  4. Click here for some helpful editing tips from Writer's Digest.

The Poem Wants a Drink
By Karen Glenn

In the workshop, students analyze
what each poem wants, what each one
strives to be. Well, this poem is
a layabout with limited ambitions. It wants
a drink. This poem doesn't give a damn
for rhyme or reason. It only sings
off-key. It has no rhythm
in the jukebox of its soul.
It grew up without symbols.
It doesn't know from assonance.
Give it mambo lessons, and it
still won't learn to dance. It has
not one stanza with a lyric pedigree.
It's late, and getting later, and this poem
wants a drink.
Call it gray and tired. Even call it
a cliche. This poem's lived long enough
to know exactly what it means
to say: Don't be stingy
with the whiskey, baby.
.....Yes, the night
has been a cruel one, and this poem
could use a drink.


  1. So glad that you've chosen to follow-up and reinforce last week's brilliant post while we're all still in the 'spirit'. We all need to learn how to become our own best editors, and all of this attention to that is most helpful.

    1. I'm laughing at myself here because I typed the above comment quickly and need to edit repetition of the word 'all'. See, these prompts really do make us more aware of what we're writing. :-)

    2. Thanks for your comment, Jamie! What fun to see the editing process in real-time!

  2. I'm planning to get into revising and editing sometime in late October or early November with my senior honors classes. Thanks for all this material.

    1. Thanks, Rich—so glad the prompt material is useful for classroom activities!

  3. Great idea to combine last week's and this week's "instructional" prompts and to make them coincide with the beginning of the school year.

    1. Good point, Bob! (I hadn't thought of that myself.)

    2. Coinciding with the beginning of the school year, that is ...

  4. Thank you once again for very helpful information.

    Amita Jayaraman (India)