A while back, I was asked to discuss my “pet poetry peeves” in an interview question. I haven’t thought about it since, but I came across the file a few days ago and thought it might be interesting to work with the idea of “peeves” for this week’s prompt.
Following is my answer to the question, “What are your pet poetry peeves and general poetry philosophy?” I hope something in it resonates for you.
Poetry “Peeves” and Poetry “Philosophy”
There’s a big difference between writing a poem and creating art. A lot of people who write poetry work from a prose impulse and a prose logic that they arrange in lines and stanzas. They may be very capable writers, but art has to be something more than competent. It’s too easy to tell a story in a format that looks like a poem.
Some people who write poetry are so interested in being poets, telling their stories, and getting applause that they (the writers) are indelibly superimposed over their poems. The poem is the thing and it needs to be free of the poet if it can ever be called art. There is definitely a finding and loss of the self in poetry writing—that sounds contradictory, but it isn’t. The poet enters the poem to learn something; once a poem is written, the poet necessarily exits; the poem shouldn’t carry the poet along with it—all that bulk and bone can cast shadows on a poem’s light. A good poem takes risks—artistic and emotional—but never through concepts and notions or simplifications. Every poem needs a strong emotional center that doesn’t smother meaning with sentiment (I think of that as sediment)—subtlety (and that doesn’t mean obscurity) is necessary for a poem to succeed.
A poem must contain an element of mystery or surprise—first to the poet and then to the reader or listener. A poet, beyond competence, has to trust his or her readers to fill in some of the blanks. Dylan Thomas wrote, “You can tear a poem apart to see what makes it tick... You’re back with the mystery of having been moved by words. The best craftsmanship always leaves holes and gaps … so that something that is not in the poem can creep, crawl, flash or thunder in.”
The best lesson a poet can learn is to write “little”—to work from the minute on the way to the large.
Now … for this week’s prompt … simply write a poem about a pet peeve—something that really irks you (and it doesn’t have to be poetry or writing related).
1. Start with a list of things that annoy you.
2. Select one item for your list and write a poem about it.
3. You may choose to write about the peeve itself or how that peeve came to be something that really “bugs” you.
1. Because this kind of poem lends itself to a good “rant,” you might try that approach.
2. You may choose to be humorous or serious.
3. Stick to specifics and don’t let emotion rule your content. Remember that this is a poem and should contain the qualities of good poetry (imagery, figures of speech, effective line breaks, sound).
4. Don’t close the door on your poem; leave it slightly ajar.
5. Link the end of your poem to the beginning but not overtly—and don’t over-write.
Pet Peeve Suggestions:
- People who talk with their moths full of food
- People who use poor grammar
- People who use or pronounce words incorrectly
- Screaming (noisy) children in churches, movie theaters, restaurants
- Terrible service in a restaurant
- Overuse of the word like
- Overuse of the word actually
- Slow drivers in the fast lanePeople who always have to get the last word
- Loud Music
- Phoniness (insincerity)