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Write Create Make: Poems

Why Poetry?

Related image"Can Poetry Matter?" by Dana Gioia
Language is rich, and malleable. It is a living, vibrant material, and every part of a poem works in conjunction with every other part – the content, the pace, the diction, the rhythm, the tone – as well as the very sliding, floating, thumping, rapping sounds of it. ~ Mary Oliver,  A Poetry Handbook

Ancestors: A Mapping of Indigenous Poetry and Poets by Joy Harjo      Native American Poetry and Culture      Indigenous Poets      Native Poetry      

Native American Poems and Prayers        Native American Heritage Month 

Poems on Immigration           Poetry & Migration 

Teaching Poetry Online from Poetry Foundation Website. 

Speaking of Poetry

“Speaking of Poetry” by Stanley Kunitz

The writer today, said Albert Camus in his acceptance of the Nobel Prize, “cannot serve those who made history; he must serve those who are subject to it.”

            “How true! And yet one finds to one’s dismay that the poetic imagination resists being made the tool of causes, even the noblest of causes. The imagination lives by its contradictions and disdains any form of oppression, including the oppression of the mind by a single idea.

            Poetry, I have insisted, is ultimately mythology, the telling of the stories of the soul. This would seem to be an introverted, even solipsistic, enterprise, if it were not that these stories recount the soul’s passage through the valley of this life – that is to say, its adventure in time, in history.

            If we want to know what it felt like to be alive at any given moment in the long odyssey of the race, it is to poetry we must turn. The moment is dear to us, precisely because it is so fugitive, and it is somewhat of a paradox that poets should spend a lifetime hunting for the magic that will make the moment stay. Art is that chalice into which we pour the wine of transcendence. What is imagination but a reflection of our yearning to belong to eternity as well as to time? 

            In an age defined by its modes of production, where everybody tends to be a specialist of sorts, the artist itself ideally is that rarity, a whole person making a whole thing. Poetry, it cannot be denied, requires a mastery of craft, but it is more than a playground for technicians. The craft that I admire most manifests itself not as an aggregate of linguistic or prosodic skills, but as a form of spiritual testimony, the sign of the inviolable self consolidated against the enemies within and without that would corrupt or destroy human pride and dignity. It disturbs me that twentieth century American poets seem largely reconciled to being relegated to the classroom – practically the only habitat in which most of us are conditioned to feel secure. It would be healthier if we could locate ourselves in the thick of life, at every intersection where values and meanings cross, caught in the dangerous traffic between self and universe.

            Poets are always ready to talk about the difficulties of their art. I want to say something about its rewards and joys. The poem comes in the form of a blessing – “like rapture breaking on the mind,” as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.” (12, Passing Through)


Passing Through: The Later Poems. New and Selected. Stanley Kunitz. W. W. Norton. 1995        

Elements of Poetry: Art and Craft

Elements of Poetry: Craft & Technique

1. Subject/Content
What is being said?
            Is there more that wants to be said?
            Is it true? Does it feel?
            Does it follow its own deepest impulses, not necessarily the initial idea?
            Are there things in it that don’t belong?
            Are whatever digressions it takes in its own best service?
            Are there things in it that are confusing?
            Are there things in it that are clichéd or sentimental?

            Is it self-satisfied? Is it predictable?
            Does it go deep enough, far enough?

            Is it particular?

 2. Sound, Rhyme, Rhythm  

            Is there joy, depth, muscle, in the music of its saying (or subject)?

            Does it want a more deeply living body of sound?
            Does its rhythm work? (i.e. both seem right and accomplish meaning and feeling)
            Does the music work?

3. Diction/Voice/Tone

            Does the diction fit?
            Is it in the right voice?
            What is the tone of the poem?

            Could any of its words be more interesting? more surprising? more alive? more accurate? 

 4. Image & Imagery/Figurative Language

Does each image work?

            Is it fresh? Is it detailed? Is it appropriate? Is it accurate?

            Does it accomplish the imaginative intensity and shed light in its comparison?

5. Form/Design/Intent/Organization

Does the shape/form/design work (line breaks, stanzas, etc.)?

            Are the transitions accurate?
            What is the premise? Does the poem fulfill the premise?
            Does each of its moments actively move the poem toward its full realization?

            Is it creative, fun, playful, or otherwise fulfill the intent of the poem?

6. Clarity/Grammar/Syntax/Spelling/Punctuation

            Is the grammar correct?
            If the syntax is unusual, is it for a purpose?
            Is the spelling correct?
            Does each punctuation mark do its work?

7. Should the poem go out into the world?

            Is it finished?

            Is it a seed for something else?

            Six months later, is it still finished?
            Six years later, is it still finished?

*Acknowledgement: “Elements of Poetry: Craft &Technique” is indebted to the questions the poet Jane Hirschfield asks in her workshop. JT compiled and adapted the questions into the current format. 

Sound Rhyme Rhythm

The play between pitch and duration, between syntax and line, between like and unlike sounds,  becomes a means of art. These are comparable ways to achieve meaning and feeling.The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide (Robert Pinsky, p. 97)

“...and I stress that they must read and read and read and write and write and write…. The thing I am interested in doing is in presenting poetry as a living thing, and instrument of pleasure, of release, and they enjoy it when it is given to them that way.” ~ Gwendolyn Brooks, Conversations with Gwendolyn Brooks, p34

Glossary of Poetic Terms            Rhyme    Rhythm   Meter          Blank Verse         Free Verse

​Tyger by William Blake
The Lake Isle of Innisfree (audio) by William Butler Yeats
[anyone lived in a pretty how town] by e.e.cummings

We Real Cool (text & audio) by Gwendolyn Brooks
The Negro Speaks of Rivers
 by Langston Hughes

Touch Me (Video), by Stanley Kunitz
Wild Geese (Audio), by Mary Oliver

One Art by Elizabeth Bishop 

Poetry Foundation Podcasts
Poets and Writers, Inc. : Multimedia 



How can the content be separated from the poem's fluid and breathing body? ~ Mary Oliver, A Poetry Handbook

Form in poetry has many uses; one of them is, like refrigeration, to preserve bad meat. ~ Czeslaw Milosz

In those years formalism was part of the strategy -- like asbestos gloves it allowed me to handle materials I couldn’t pick up barehanded. ~ Adrienne Rich

POETS: A Sense of Form
Emily Dickinson
Walk Whitman
e. e. cummings

POEMS: Evolutions of Form
Perhaps the World Ends Here by Joy Harjo
I Sing the Body Electric by Walt Whitman
To a Poor Old Woman by William Carlos Williams
Ode to My Socks by Pablo Neruda
Ode to the Book by Pablo Neruda
Spring Giddiness by Rumi

I, Too by Langston Hughes
Learning to Love America by Shirley Geok-Lin Lim
My Father’s “Norton Introduction to Literature,” Third Edition (1981) by Hai-Dang Phan
Urban Love Poem by Marilyn Chin
An American Sunrise (text & video) by Joy Harjo
Psalm by Wislava Szymborska
Witchgrass (audio) by Louise Glück


The Sick Rose by William Blake

The Beauty of Things by Robinson Jeffers
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer's Liberation Front by Wendell Berry
In California: Morning, Evening, Late January by Denise Levertov
In Response To A Question: What Does the Earth Say?" by William Stafford
A Map to the Next World by Joy Harjo

Caged Bird by Maya Angelou
Dreamwood, by Adrienne Rich
America by Allen Ginsberg
Poem (I lived in the first century of world wars) by Muriel Rukeyser
Night Harvest by Lâm Thi My Da

Found Poem

Prose Poem


(Poems are) imaginary gardens with real toads in them. ~ Marianne Moore

The alchemy of turning what is visible to us into what is visible to others is what all the arts are about. ~ Charles Simic, The Metaphysician in the Dark, p. 26., p 27

The language of poem is the language of particulars...
It takes a sure eye and a capable hand to be forever noticing and writing down such particulars.

The poet must not only write the poem but must scrutinize the world intensely… If the poem is thin, it is likely so not because the poet does not know enough words, but because he or she has not stood long enough among the flowers— has not seen them in any fresh, exciting, and valid way
. ~ Mary Oliver, The Poetry Handbook, 99

“When I was a child, my poetry was childish, it was youthful when I was young, despairing when I was suffering, aggressive when I had to take part in the social struggle, and there is still a mixture of all these different tendencies in the poetry I write now, which may perhaps be at the same time childish, aggressive, and despairing…” ~Pablo Neruda

DEVICES: Figurative Language (simile, metaphor, personification, allusion) 

"The Potato Eaters" by Vincet van Gogh 
"The Starry Night" by Vincent van Gogh
"Music: Pink and Blue No. 2by Georgia O'Keeffee 
"Ladder to the Moon" by Georgia O'Keeffe

Poetry Resources

Poetry Resources

 ...there’s a mysterious element in poetry that seems to resist intellectual analysis… there’s an organic and irreducible energy in a good poem that cannot be logically accounted for… you can take the poem apart, and you won’t find it. ~ The Poet’s Companion, p118

This is art… not science; there is no one path into the poem, nor is there always a hidden message within it. Take the poem at face value, read it for pleasure, for the story...Then let the other level arrive, enter into the ambiguity of the language, tease out the symbol, the metaphor. The poem requires nothing more than your open mind. ~ Maxine Kumin, “Audience” in The Eye of the Poet, 160  

  • Stanley Kunitz on Poetry and Life
  • Poetry Foundation 
    Read poems, listen to audios and podcasts, watch videos and observe how the English language is made live and sustained through poetry.
  • The Academe of American Poets
    Read poems, listen to poets read, celebrate poetry and poets. Browse resources for educators.
  • Poetry Society of America
    Read, write, and support poetry.
  • Poets & Writers, Inc.
    "Poets & Writers, Inc. is the primary source of information, support, and guidance for creative writers. Founded in 1970, it is the nation's largest nonprofit literary organization serving poets, fiction writers, and creative nonfiction writers. Our national office is located in New York City. Our California branch office is based in Los Angeles."
  • United States Poet Laureates
    "Library of Congress Web pages that include information on the poet laureate's life and work, as well as to external Web sites that feature biographical information, interviews, poems, audio, video, and other materials that highlight the activities of each poet."
  • Association of Writers and Writing Program
    "AWP provides community, opportunities, ideas, news, and advocacy for writers and teachers of writing."
  • World Literature Today
    "Now in over 90 years of uninterrupted publication, WLT is one of the oldest continuously published literary periodicals in the United States—along with other such publications launched in the early twentieth century as South Atlantic Quarterly (1902), Poetry (1912), and the New Yorker (1925)—and we remain devoted to our mission of serving students, scholars, and general readers worldwide."
  • Words without Borders
    "Founded in 2003, Words without Borders promotes cultural understanding through the translation, publication, and promotion of the finest contemporary international literature."