I talk a lot about emotion in these blog-posts and the reason is because all good art, particularly poetry, is made of emotion. If you aren't willing to express emotion intensely, there's really not much point in trying to be a poet.
The same is true if you just want to express one emotion over and over. If your poems are always happy or always sad, people will get bored with your work fast.
The best thing you can do is to use a lot of different emotions, even in a single poem. I could cite hundreds of examples here, but let's just focus on two really famous poems. The first is "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe and the second is "Lady Lazarus" by Sylvia Plath.
Sure, "The Raven" is famous for being synonymous for mourning, and rightly so, but if you look at the poem carefully you'll see it actually runs a gamut of emotions from boredom, to hope, to anger, and terror. Unrelenting grief is only one emotion, and it's profound, centuries strong sadness would not ring as fully as it does without a compliment of contrasting colors.
Plath's poem is even more dynamic. It starts with submissive emotions of fear and self-loathing and rises to emotions that are best described as "godly." Along the way, Plath uses sarcasm, honesty, pity, anger, joy, and nostalgia to fuel her transformation from victim to avenging Goddess.
That's what you want to do with emotion in a poem. You want to use it as both color and tempo simultaneously and you want to color with more than one crayon and keep time on more than a single drum.
Poems Written: 308
Rejections: 20 (13 tiered)
Poem written today: "Sisters"
Should you ever just give up on a poem?
Some poems come out almost fully formed, just perfect straight out of the fire, like a gift from from the gods. Others have to be wrangled, sawed, sanded, polished and, in some cases, given a full body-transplant. What makes it worse is, a poem can be this close to brilliance and then it takes months and sometimes years to actually get it right.
So you have a decision to make as a poet. Luckily, you get the chance to make the decision over and over. Basically, what you have to decide with each poem is: how much can revision help? Usually the answer is: a lot. Even if you only make small changes or a small change to a given poem, the results can be dramatic.
There are times, though, when you just have to let go.
Some poems just fail.
Unfortunately, there's no rule when it comes to making this judgment call. And it's liable to be different, in any case, for each poem. Given, these vagaries, here's a few points that I've found helpful over the years:
I also have a thought on not revising or refusing to revise your poems: that's why your poems aren't working for anyone else but you.
So do your poems a favor and shine them as best you can.
If you hate revising and polishing, consider two options (best used together!):
1) Have me do it for you! Click the "Poem Polisher" button below. I've helped lots of poets.
2) Use my 7 Secrets of Poetry pdf as a guide for revision.
Poems Written: 307
Rejections: 20 (13 tiered)
Poem written today: "Street Steel"
My name is Daniel E. Blackston, and I have the following bad poetic habits:
1) I use words nobody understands. (Rhetoric)
2) My poems are too dense. (Accessibility)
3) I sometimes lose track of my theme. (Obscurity)
4) My closing lines could really be better. (Finishing)
Don't get me wrong, it was hard to say those things publicly. And hard to say them even to myself. But this is the reality I face as a working poet and some version of it is your reality, too.
If you think you don't have weaknesses, you're mistaken. There are no perfect poets. Some are very close, sure. But no-one gets it right all the time. Poets tend to carry their mistakes along with them and are reluctant to change. Look at Dickinson's galloping meter, Crane's obscurity, Plath's melodrama, Eliot's banality, or Poe's sing-song rhythms and rhyme. Sometimes the mistakes work for you, and that's probably why we cling to them, but -- for the most part -- our bad habits restrict our growth.
At the very least, our bad habits show us where we can immediately try to improve.
For me it's: have a point, say it clearly, and finish strong.
How about you? Can you name your bad habits?
Poems Written: 306
Rejections: 20 (13 tiered)
Poem written today: "Tall Flowers"
I actually think competition is good for poets. From ancient days of yore when Greeks competed for laurel crowns right on through to today's poets trying for the most "likes" on social media, competition can be like electricity -- a source of fuel and excitement to keep you moving.
Competitors are mentors.
On the other hand, if you take it too far, you can crash and burn.
So how can you tell when competition is healthy? Here's a few good signs:
1) You're inspired to write a lot. Not just about poetry, but actual poems.
2) You get excited when you see a new poem by your competitor (s).
3) You accept that you probably can't better what the competitor does best.
4) You integrate as much as you can from the competition even if it means doing away with some of your most treasured habits and riffs.
5) You feel or see a path forward for your own work and feel that you have energy for the journey.
Now here are signs competition is getting to you:
1) You naysay your competitor's work.
2) You feel you've been treated "unfairly" by life, or readers, or publishers.
3) You refuse to edit, change, or revise your work.
4) You dig up old works that you feel never got their just due and wave them around even if no-one seems interested in them.
5) You have problems sleeping or concentrating on your work because you're busy trying to cut your competition down to size in your imagination, or dream up compensatory strengths for yourself.
In any case, the point where you no longer feel the least bit competitive is when you'll probably start to lose interest in creating new things. Or you may just start repeating yourself. Competition keeps us fresh and "young" and, well, no matter how good you get -- you can always find someone to envy!
Click the pic above to read about a very famous poetry competition!
Rote memorization has always been associated with poetry. Poets who can recite from memory get applause. It's equally impressive if you can quote Lord Byron or Mya Angelou from memory. It's only slightly less impressive if you can quote one of your own poems without a book or phone.
That's why I want you to commit to memorizing one of your poems, with the intention of carrying it around in your head, ready to drop at any given opportunity.
It should be a short, powerful, unforgettable poem. But if you can't manage that, it should at least be short.
Don't overwhelm people. And don't add to much dramatic flourish to your reading. Let the words do the talking, or you'll seem too rehearsed.
Once, in a car full of his female friends, a poetic rival challenged me to recite one of my poems. Luckily, I was up to the challenge and -- when I finished the poem -- everyone clapped. If I showed you the poem right now, I promise you wouldn't clap! It's not a great poem.
What got people clapping was the fact that I could recite without flaw, from memory. It's like watching someone play a song right in front of you, or rap in front of you. They may or may not be a pro, but there's a natural excitement in just being around any decent live performance.
So, do me a favor. Memorize one of your best, short poems.
Then, if you want to, memorize another one later just so you don't look like a one-hit wonder.
Poems Written: 305
Rejections: 19 (12 tiered)
Poem written today: "N/A" * Three music demos recorded*
Practicing any art at any level for any reason is a Good Thing. You don't need to make money, you don't need to move mountains, you don't need to dominate Tik Tok, Instagram, or Twitter. You don't need your face on a billboard or your hands printed in cement to get 100% of everything that art and creativity have to give.
Fame and money are not art. They have nothing to do with art. Our culture confuses this beyond the ken of the average person to tell the difference, but that doesn't matter. The reality is: you can be rich and famous without talent and creativity and you can be a creative genius who doesn't have a follower or a dime.
So what do you get our of being an artist that's not based in money or fame?
It's a long list. There are items on it that, if you're not an artist, you probably haven't thought about since you were a child and wouldn't have known you lost until you found them again. When you see a work of art, part of the shine that comes off of it is that childlike imaginative power that's a direct connect to life. That freshness of discovery, self-expression and wonder. Artists live there. Your art will keep you healthy, happy, busy, and engaged with life until you no longer need it, or until your brush falls out of your dying hand.
In any case, your life will be better, more exciting, and you'll bring joy to others by making art.
So my advice is: do it.
Poems Written: 304
Rejections: 17 (10 tiered)
Poem written today: "Animal Dreams"
Inspiration and Theme
I've been writing a lot of poetry lately and I've noticed that there's a big difference between inspiration and theme. By this I mean: you can get inspired by something, say the sight of the sun on a lake, but when you write the poem about the sun on the lake, the theme that comes out will almost certainly be something different than what you expected or felt when you got hit with inspiration.
It's not always that way, but it's often that way. What's more, it seems as though the best poems are those that start from a point of inspiration but travel somewhere new, somewhere previously unknown. This may, in fact, be one of the reasons that what we call "inspiration" feels so thrilling, because we instinctively know we're about to travel somewhere new.
For me it's much more vital to follow inspiration than theme. If I start out thinking "I'll write a poem about how bad war is..." The results are usually blah. If I start off thinking, "Wow, the way that tree-shadow looks on the street is cool..." I often get good poems.
I'm sure some poets are theme-first and there's nothing wrong with that. For these poets, theme is inspiration.
But I maintain it's not always necessary to know your theme, and, even if you think you do, it's very likely others will see something different. So don't get too attached to your themes.
The opposite goes for your inspiration. Stay as attached as you can!!!
Poems Written: 302
Rejections: 17 (10 tiered)
Poem written today: "Off-Task"
Very few artists enjoy being controlled. Most of us break away from convention and the status-quo just by breathing. We tend to dress strange, talk strange, keep odd hours, and spend a lot of time introspecting and creating, things that the world of work-buy-die has absolutely no use for.
One thing we all have in common is: we disrupt the dreariness of life. We spice up the world with paintings, music, poems, dances, skylines, and films that are as essential to living as air or water. Everyone knows we need art like we need food.
Just imagine a world with no art.
That includes every meme, viral video, and cooking show ever created. It also includes clothes. From tuxedos to trashy lingerie. Fashion is art. Take away creativity, we're all wearing sacks -- without product logos. Don't forget WWE! Also tattoos. Beer logos. And everything on Netflix.
So why are artists treated so cruelly by society and by people in general?
What do you mean, cruelly? Artists are rich, famous, and free!
Despite the b.s. hype the media showers on less than 1% of working artists, most artists struggle financially, have a tough time finding outlets for their work, and also have to keep growing, learning and creating for their entire lives. They don't take up a post somewhere and start watching the calendar till it hits: "Social Security and 401k." Every day is a battle with a blank canvas, an empty page, a lump of clay.
Because artists need so much time alone to think and create, they often suffer from relationship issues and loneliness. Then there's critics. Rivals. Failed drafts. Failed revisions.
Many artists suicide or turn to drink and drugs. This is also true of non-artists, but there's a greater risk if you're an artist. When an artist cracks up people say: "Yup that's what happens. Crazy artiste..."
When an artist, after working for years or decades, is successful people say: "Wow, you're lucky to be so gifted."
So in any case, people who are not creators simply do not understand artists. It's a cliché that happens to be 100% true. Non-artists just don't get creative types, but they really need our work just as artists tend to step outside of conventional life, but need it as inspiration.
My advice on this is simply: don't bother trying to explain yourself to people. Nothing works. You will literally argue with people for years over the value of a dollar or the propriety of men not wearing dresses. Nothing will come of it. You'll still be an artist; they'll still be scanning the room to see if they're "normal."
When people question your outrageous verve -- your audacity to spend the morning writing a poem rather than gossiping about your third cousin's mistress -- your subversive will to paint watercolors of an old barn rather than spend another afternoon complaining about your bad back or someone's barking dog -- just smile and say: "I can't help it. I'm an artist..."
Poems Written: 301
Rejections: 17 (10 tiered)
Poem written today: "Some People"