What is a Poet? Why is it not a Cinch for Poets to Dream in America?

Quote attributed to Saul BellowFrequently, I spend my lunch hour at the bookstore browsing magazines and books. Today was one of those days, and as a consequence I happened on the book, The Financial Lives of Poets by Jess Walter. The title is an attention-grabber and that’s why I picked up the book. I read the jacket and skimmed the first few pages, my habit for determining if a book merits further reading. Within those pages, I discovered a quote attributed to author Saul Bellow, “Poets have to dream, and dreaming in America is no cinch.”

BAM! (nod to Emeril) It’s a staggering bit of verbiage. I filed the quote in my cerebral database and later deposited it on a piece of scrap paper littering my car. I deemed it worthy of exploration, and that’s what I intend to do here.

First, what is a poet? Well, you’d be surprised (or maybe not) at the answers I found searching the World Wide Web. How does this answer suit you? A poet is a person who writes poetry. I hope you sighed, cursed, or blew a raspberry. One should never define a thing by using the thing to define it. How’s this? A poet is a person who writes verse. Okay, but so what? This is also a poor definition, but at least I have a basic understanding of what a poet does; however, I still do not know what a poet is. There is a difference!

A poet is a:

A poet gazes on her culture and critically assesses it in her verse. She affirms and strengthens cultural platforms that empower everyone. A poet is not an imitator, a trend setter, an embellisher, nor a poser. A poet is not aloof, disengaged, entitled, nor apolitical. A poet supports change for a free, just, and sustainable society. It’s with this understanding that we can appreciate “Poets have to dream,” as it’s our poets who most frequently dream of better tomorrows (life without war, poverty, abuse, discrimination, etc.).

Why is dreaming in America so difficult? I think dreaming implies change, and change is not something everyone is willing to embrace. Struggles with change are illustrated by recent US news headlines on the topics of healthcare reform, finance reform, immigration reform, education reform, etc. Opposition to reform is strong. This is not a bad thing; it just is. One should study Hegelian Dialectic to know that there will always be a series of philosophical conflicts before there is an evolution of some sort. In this world, patience is the ultimate virtue and without patience dreaming is no cinch.

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Found Poem – It’s Easy to Create Your Own

Create a Found Poem by turning the mundane into something interesting. Re-frame words, phrases, and whole passages found on a page of a book. Loving books as I do, I’d suggest you choose a book found on shelves at a thrift store. If someone didn’t love a book enough to keep it, it’s likely a good one to use for this project. Be creative. You don’t have to block out text like I did. Find a unique way to highlight the text you want as part of your Found Poem.

Found Poem
Versifying the Vanilla

This found poem reads as follows:

I am talking about
chains          of gold
chains all the same
interrupted          comfort and calm
to lose          us
unity
not seeing          without any sense
this is almost incomprehensible
this fabric
It’s so difficult
a need of you.

Source:
The Shack, ISBN: 978-0-9647292-3-0
Publisher: Windblown Media; 1st edition (July 1, 2008)
Page 124

Related Posts:
Poetry – Senryu
Writing a List Poem
Writing Cinquains – Five Line Poems

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How to Write Senryu Poetry

Senryu poetry is very much like Haiku in that a Senryu is a short, unrhymed poem composed of 17 syllables or less and written in three lines. It’s not necessary to use the 5-7-5 syllabic structure, though you can. Senryu poems are usually humorous or cynical and they focus on relationships, work, and the everyday. Haiku tends to be more serious and typically about nature.

How to Write Senryu Poetry

I’ve written a few examples of Senryu poems for you to read.

Fatuous ideas (5)
in a Tiffany box, (6)
this e-mail from the boss. (6)

* * * * *

Anti-aging cream fails (6)
to erase many years – (6)
her gray reflection. (5)

* * * * *

Learn how others define Senryu poetry. Additional insight will help you write a better Senryu poem of your own. Give it a try. Let me know what you write!

You might also want to try writing a triolet.

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March 21 – World Poetry Day 2008

Poetry banner Today is World Poetry Day! The purpose of the day is to promote the reading, writing, publishing, and teaching of poetry throughout the world. It’s also the day of the Equinox. I’ve listed some sites you may enjoy exploring today. Get your poetry on and happy spring!

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How to Write Triolet Poems

How to Write Triolet PoemsThe Teachers & Writers Handbook of Poetic Forms describes a triolet poem (pronounced tree-o-lay) as an eight-line poem with two rhymes and two repeating lines. The first line of the poem occurs three times (as in “tri” meaning three). It is repeated in the fourth and seventh lines. The eighth line repeats the second line, so that you get a formula that looks like this:

  • A1 – original
  • B2 – original
  • A – rhymes with line 1
  • A1 – identical to line 1
  • A – rhymes with line 1
  • B – rhymes with line 2
  • A1 – identical to line 1
  • B2 – identical to line 2

This French form is not widely practiced and few have been written in English until recent times. Perhaps it’s because triolet poems are not as easy to construct as one would imagine. The handbook offers that one might begin by writing down two lines that one would say to a friend in conversation, or to think of an object and construct two statements about it. After the two opening lines are in place, the writer can build from there.

Here is a triolet from the handbook. No poet is given attribution. The author of the handbook states only that the poem was written after the poet visited her mother in the hospital.

Triolet

A perfectly clear liquid like water flows out of the spine
Last night in the hospital this is what I saw
I don’t know where this fluid sits & what its design
A perfectly clear liquid like water flows from her spine
Does it move from her brain in a line?
The cool doctor draws it out with a straw
A perfectly clear liquid like water flows out of the spine
Last night, in the cold hospital, this is what I saw.

Notice the end rhymes and the rhymes that repetition creates. There is other internal rhyme as well. What else do you hear and see when you read this poem? I hope you’re reading it aloud. All poetry should be read aloud. Your ear can catch things that your eyes often miss.

Here is a great example of the triolet form by Thomas Hardy.

I’ve made an attempt at a triolet. You can read mine below.

Triolet for a Funeral

This morning, the blankets insulate like a womb.
Outside of their comfort the world is raw, uninviting.
The day holds misery, agitation, and gloom.
This morning, the blankets insulate like a womb.
For what reason should I ascend ─ and for whom?
Be it not to attend adjuring priests in their whiting.
This morning, the blankets insulate like a womb.
Outside of their comfort the world is raw, uninviting.

* * * * *

Now you give it a try! Point to your triolet in my comments section.

Learn about other simple poetic forms such as the Found Poem, Cento, Tanka, and Cinquain.

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Write a Tang Poem – Tang Poetry Prompt

My inspiration for a Tang poem came from Liu Chang-ch’ing, a poet of the Middle Tang Dynasty. Eleven of his poems were collected in the popular anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems. Here are English translations of some of his poems. I was inspired by his poetry to write a Tang poem of my own.

smokey satin stones
there beyond the bamboo
light skates their polished bellies
their cool hardness tempts
chilly to the touch
though not from a rivulet
two go in a pocket for later reflection

Tang poems are often reveries on nature or beauty. Learn more about the rhyme and meter of Tang poetry and compose a Tang poem of your own.

Not into this style of poetry? Try writing a List Poem instead.

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List Poem or Catalog Poem

List PoemA list poem, also called a catalog poem, consists of an itemization of things or events. List poems can rhyme or not, and they can be of any length. Walt Whitman, Gertrude Stein, and Allen Ginsberg wrote poems that included lists or poems that were lists. Read Ginsberg’s Howl to see how he used descriptive, repetitive verse and also because you should! Everyone should! The phrasing and speed of his poem will keep you awake and reading.

I’ve written a short list poem for you to peruse.

Animals Are Preferable

Animals are preferable to people because they do not drive,
nor do they smoke, nor do they connive.
Animals are preferable to people because they do not blather
on and on about things that don’t matter.
Animals are preferable to people because they do not gossip,
nor do they gloat, nor strive to “make it.”
Animals are preferable to people because they do not waste
time, nor money, nor my patience.

* * * * *

Are you interested in famous poets? From outside of the U.S.? Read about the Russian poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky.

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