From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Quick and Easy Rule for Writing Poetry

This comes from the lesson my co-teacher gave today in class. (It went super awesomely. The actual teaching will be a total blast. Jumping through the beurocratic hoops will not). So far the class has been discussing observing, and how truly observing something is different then just seeing it. ("Have you really seen the mountains today?" he says). Now we're working on getting from those more unique, personal observations into actual work. The rule we talked about is this:

Good poets say what something is, not what they think it means.

Our example was "Winter Ocean" by John Updike, which goes like this:

Many-maned scud-thumper, tub
of male whales, maker of worn wood, shrub-
ruster, sky-mocker, rave!
portly pusher of waves, wind-slave.

He doesn't try to say what he thinks a "winter ocean" means or symbolizes or anything. He just digs and digs to the heart of the thing itself, and puts out there what he discovers it actually IS in incredibly interesting words. Scud-thumper. How awesome is that?

Its when we try to be all poetical and expound on some deep meaning that we totally miss the meaning, and get cheesy and cliche and vague. To me this is a good rule to keep in mind from the outset. It can reign in the dumb and keep us on the effective, concrete path. What are your thoughts? Do you think this rule can help?

Sarah Allen


  1. Agree. It sounds like the keep it simple rule to me.

  2. I'm not a fan of poetry. I would have failed English class several times if I didn't go to the principal or get my parents involved. Winter Ocean without the title becomes a riddle. No one but the author knows why they chose the words used.

    Crystal water covers the Earth.
    Frosty breath hides the seven sisters.
    Two dogs and the hunter watch.
    Roman gods are at play.

    Winter Night Sky by SB Jones.

  3. Is this the poetic equivalent of 'don't use a long word when a short one will do'?

  4. I think poetry is such a subjective thing, but it's like any writing. If you're setting out with a specific 'moral' involved, and everything you write is to just further that moral, it won't turn out well.


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