An Approach to Discussing Poetry

I hope that there will be many lively and probing discussions of the poetry that appears on this site. As such, it’s probably a good idea to take a moment to think about what a meaningful approach to discussing poetry might be. Once again, I turn to Mary Oliver.

In her Poetry Handbook, she gives two reasons why getting together with others to discuss poetry is valuable. First, it allows participants to learn the language of poetry. [I confess, this is not particularly important to me. I want a poem that captures, the sensation of being alive. For me, that doesn’t come from fretting over anapests and trochees. But, I am not the only poet companion. Others may disagree. And I do concede that there is much to be gained from being able to speak intelligently about the constructs of formal poetry.]

The second reason, is that talking to others about poetry can encourage us to write more, and better, poems. But, how do we do it? How do we help each other become our best poet selves?

We must begin by recognizing that the purpose of discussing poetry with others is to help them improve their technique, not to ridicule their idea. It is okay to say that the execution of the poem does not work. In fact it is necessary; we won’t get better if we don’t try to understand the weaknesses in our poems. But, it is not okay to criticize the impulse that gave birth to the poem. We must always honor a fellow poet’s intention, and treat it with respect.

This being the case, the poet has a concomitant obligation to be brave. Fellow poets will honor your intention, but your intention must be honest and true. Go as far to the edge of that barely grasped thought as you can. You saw something in the girl’s eyes as you passed her this morning. What was it? Climb out far onto the wavering limb of your sensibility, and we will be here to support you.

Finally, do not make this, or any other, website more important than it should be. Poetry is written in solitude. Gather here to share, but leave here to return to the quiet room. The best that this site can offer is advice on how to enjoy more productive solitudes.

These then, are the rules of being a Poet Companion:

1) Criticize a fellow poet’s technique, but never their intention.
2) Have the courage to write poetry that is true.
3) Cherish your fellows, but cherish your solitude more.

Far more important than discussing, or even sharing, poetry, is writing poetry, and that is the product of a conversation that you can have with no one but yourself.

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