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[I'm writing these lessons as posts on my blog (, but thought (hoped) that folks here might enjoy them, too.]

Iíve been meaning to do this in one form or another for some time. And Jen (Hi, Jen!) told me I should blog more about poetry, so this is a good excuse to get started.

It seems to me that:

1. Lots of people want to and/or try to write poetry. Thereís lots of it on the Web, anyway. And when I was studying writing in college, lots of us were doing it even without teh intranets.

2. There are not a lot of "how to" books, articles, blogs, etc. on how to write poetry. Plenty on how to read it. But, while reading poetry is very important for those who want to improve their writing, the skills needed are different and require different pokings.

HmmmÖ Usually my lists have at least three things. Three being the magic number. But two is OK here; a need and a lack of support for the need. Perfect niche to fill.

Letís look at #1 first. If you do a search on "poetry," youíll find plenty of places where thousands of people are posting their work. The very first thing I want to make absolutely clear is that there is NO SUCH THING as bad poetry, from the point of view of poetry as a creative outlet. There are several reasons why people write poetry, and they should all be respected:

* As an outlet for creative thoughts
* As an outlet for emotion
* To vent
* To explore thoughts/ideas
* To explore your own psychology
* To work with language
* To communicate using different skills
* To communicate with contextual richness
* To communicate with nuance
* To build confidence, either in the craft or as a communicator in general
* To connect with others
* To score chicks by the busload

That last was the reason I got into poetry. Trust meÖ good poets drive the ladies wild.

NowÖ some people write for only one or two of those reasons. If you are writing poetry as an outlet for emotion or to explore your own psychology, your work falls under the "no bad poetry" rule. Spending time doing something introspective and creative will only bring you good things.

That being saidÖ most of the other reasons above require that you consider your readers, not just your own bad, poetic self. Within the context of poetry that is meant to communicate creatively, interestingly, contextually, fully and artfully (wowÖ thatís a lot of adverbs), there is such a thing as poetry that is much, much better.

This really canít be emphasized enough: nobody should be discouraged from writing poetry; itís too close to the heart. If youíve started, donít ever stop. If you havenít ever tried it, give it a whirl. It provides great benefits.

Those beneifts, however, expand greatly when you study poetry (reading and writing it) and work to hone your craft. The more you know about the elements of poetry, and the more you practice, the more joy you will have in it. And, after a time, others may also have a joy in it. Because reading good poetry can be a wonderful, mind-expanding experience.

And just as I said there is no such thing as bad poetryÖ there is also not enough really good poetry.

Which brings us to #2.

I make no claims about the quality of my own work. I like some of it. I do it for all the reasons listed above, and writing poetry has improved (I know) my prose writing, my reading abilities and my overall creative oomph. It has also provided me with opportunities to make many good friends and have wonderful discussions and learning experiences.

I have spent many years writing, both prose and poetry. I spent a good chunk of time in high school and college studying poetry, writing it, discussing it with others, editing it, etc. AgainÖ I make no claims about the overall quality of my own work (judge that for yourself), but I do know that what Iím writing now is much, much better than what I started writing in the 7th grade. God, I hope soÖ And what I hope to do with this series of posts is provide a framework within which others who are interested in improving their work might do so.

These lessons will be based, loosely, on practices and projects that Iíve been involved with. They will provide some thoughts on how to read poetry, with an eye towards incorporating those thoughts into your own work.

There is no bad reason to write poetry. And the writing of it, no matter the quality of the output, is an important activity that should always be encouraged. Iíve never, ever told anyone (or even thought), "Wow. Your stuff reeks. You should really just stop." Bad, bad, bad idea. But Iíve also never, ever told anyone, "Your poetry canít be improved," or "Donít actively work on your writing."

These lessons will be for folks who want to work on the work.

Letís get startedÖ


I blog irregularly at TinkerX. I'm also on Twitter. @andyhavens, go figure.

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The following comments are for "Poetry Lessons: Introduction -- Why write poetry?"
by andyhavens

Penelope: formal ed not required
Penelope: thanks for the comment. I didn't mean to imply that a literary education is necessary for the writing of poetry. Many great poets are self-taught, and many are not steeped in the poetry of the past. Many writers have great natural talents, and many others have some natural talents, to one degree or another.

For myself -- and others I've worked with -- though, study and practice improve the work. There is no such thing, I think, as being "too good" at your art, and (again, for me) the study is part of the joy.

There are also folks who are somewhere between being completely "casual" poets -- who write primarily for their own reasons -- and "serious" poets, who want to really grow as writers and take up a lifelong, artistic, journey of craft. For these people, I hope, pointing out some of the basics of study will be helpful. In many cases, people have an idea that the step(s) between "where I am" and "where I want to be" are incredibly steep and complicated. My hope is to take some of the "bad mystery" out of poetry study/writing, and provide some more navigable steps for those who would like to go deeper into the "good mystery."

Thanks again for the comment; and congrats on the Canadian poetry project. Looks great from down here in the states ;-)

( Posted by: andyhavens [Member] On: November 11, 2007 )

Thanks Lucie, desvelado
desvelado: Glad you enjoyed this piece; thanks for the comment. No... I'd never tell anybody what to write or how; it's all a gift. But sometimes it's fun to discuss how we each read and write. That's what I'm up to in this series.

Lucie: Discernment is a great gift, and very useful to poets. I don't believe that you need great wisdom, knowledge, intelligence or innate skill to be a good poet; but discernment is wonderfully helpful. We all have access to the same words, but choosing which ones... that's the point, eh?

And there is nothing, to me as a writer, more wonderful than a discerning reader.

( Posted by: andyhavens [Member] On: November 24, 2007 )

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