The Arrogance of Poetry

“Every work of art is, in one sense, a self-disclosure.”

You ‘ve heard the term metapoetry–poetry about poetry.  It’s a poem about the poem itself or some aspect of poetry: feet, iambs, couplets, etc.

Billy Collins has written a sonnet about sonnets that I can’t post for copyright reasons but you can read here: Sonnet by Billy Collins

In ModPo we learned that all poetry is to some extent meta. If there is any literary art form more narcissistic, I don’t know of it. (Well, except for maybe selfies, which could be, I suppose, a form of art at times.)

I grinned when I found this tweet:” Can the conceit of metapoetry avoid becoming poetic arrogance?”

Isn’t that the epitome of metaphor? The poem about the poem, which hasn’t been written by the poem, is considered arrogant. (Cue the chuckling irony machine.)

But, then what about the poet?

Poems are often about the poet. They are often soul-bearing, utra-personal, and shall I say, often whiny in nature and overloaded with self-disclosure.

Self-disclosure: the process by which one person lets his or her inner being, thoughts, and emotions be known to another.

Even if we write about concrete or the winter storm or wrinkly feet, the poem is reflective of the word artist and their narrators, disclosing  multiple facets such as:

  1. Depth of simile ideation
    Example: My thoughts are as slimy as wet concrete.
  2. or weather prejudices
    Example: I abhor the romance of spring.
  3. or the abnormal
    Example: He dreamed about her foot fungus with anticipation.
    Poetically gross.

So why do poets allow themselves to be so overtly vulnerable?  What need do they have that is served by writing short works of art about their deepest longing or observations or perspectives?

The art of poetry is to evoke emotion. That’s hard to do if we don’t connect with our own emotions.  “Poetry uses forms and conventions to suggest differential interpretation to words, or to evoke emotive responses.”

Even when we write a poem that says nothing about how we feel, the poem is still about the poet. The choice of subject, form, words, spacing, tone, etc.  is revealing.

In the very least, you reveal what you are thinking about at the moment. I’ll admit, sometimes even that feels too exposing for me.

But, it is arrogance that drives us to write poetry?

The criticism that poetry is arrogant, I believe, comes from the thought that we are essentially pointing a finger at ourselves and saying, listen to me.

Then, we blindly assume that someone, somewhere will actually want to pay attention.

That’s not arrogance.

I’d call that human kinship.


November PAD

2015 November PAD Chapbook Challenge

Poets, prepare yourselves. Buy yourself a fancy notebook. Fix a snack. Turn off your phone. Turn on some Duke Ellington or the Bee Gee’s or The Doobie Brothers or whatever floats your boat.  It’s time for another poetic challenge from Writers Digest!

November PAD2

This is the PAD CHAPBOOK challenge. It’s a little different from the April challenge in that you will write a poem each day based on the posted prompt, then you’ll compile the best of the bunch into a theme with the idea of creating your own chapbook and then submit the whole kit and caboodle.

Many poets will daily share their first or second draft on the challenge site in order to participate in poetic community. But, it’s not necessary.  More fun, perhaps. And more neighborly. But, it won’t win you any points with the judges.

Generally, I don’t read any of the shared poems before I post mine. If I did, I’d never post. If you are prone to jealousy or comparison, I suggest you don’t either. For myself, I’m prone to intimidation. I read three posted poems and I want to quiver in my blanky and scold myself for even attempting this annual event.  (I left out the part with my thumb in my mouth. TMI)

What I like about this challenge is that participating poets have the month of December to revise their poems and get them in order before submitting. This gives you some thinking time which comes in handy because the month of November is notorious for being overly busy with a certain holiday consisting of family, feasting, and football frolicking.

So, find your happy place, your writing nook, your lucky pen, or your solitary shadowy retreat.


Then find your groove and come poem with us crazy poets.

When are you a Poet?


“In the eyes of others a man is a poet if he has written one good poem.
In his own he is only a poet at the moment when he is making his last revision to a new poem. The moment before, he was still only a potential poet; the moment after, he is a man who has ceased to write poetry, perhaps forever.”

― W.H. Auden, The Dyer’s Hand

Platform-It’s for Poets, too.

Beginning  on October 1, 2015, Robert Lee Brewer (Writers Digest) is once again offering a Platform Challenge. 

“This challenge will help writers through the process of improving
their writing platforms by providing one task to complete for each
day of the month in October. I will share tips and advice related to
the task. By the end of the month, writers of all skill levels should
have a better grip on their platforms.”

If it were not for Robert’s first Challenge, I wouldn’t know a smidgen about blogging or WordPress or Twitter chats. I learned more in one month than I thought possible. Wordsmith Studio, my writers’ group, evolved from that first challenge.

I don’t know what this new challenge will entail, but I’m sure it involves social media. Writers need to be on top of the digital world where things change rapidly.


If you are a poet and want to showcase your work or get more involved in the worldwide poetry community, go straight to the October Challenge and sign up by leaving a comment.

He is even dangling a few trinkets you could win.


Great books!

This challenge can change your entire success as a writer and open your world.

The best part-it’s FREE!

Go for it!

5 Keys to Memorizing Poetry

I eat my peas with honey.
I’ve done it all my life.
It makes the peas taste funny.
But, it keeps them on the knife.

This is the one of the first poems I remember memorizing. My mom used to recite it us at dinner when she served peas with our meatloaf.

(We did not paste our peas to our knife with honey. Actually, my brothers secreted their peas to our salivating Schnauzers under the table.)

Most of us grew up reciting ingrained nursery rhymes to music:



Memorizing little ditties came easy to us in those days. Especially if they came with a tune, or hand movements, or a jump rope.

But what good is memorizing anything after we graduate high school?

After the time’s tables are fixed in our brains, and we can recite the Preamble to the Constitution, and maybe some of the Gettysburg Address, we think we’re done jamming information into our cerebellum or hippocampus or wherever we stuff our memories. Or if we get advanced degrees, we study for the tests and (some of us) promptly release that info into the atmosphere and wave goodbye as it meanders on the windwaves and then temporarily leeches onto someone else’s brain for another test at another school.

Heck, we don’t even have to memorize phone numbers anymore. We live in an I world with information at our fingertips. Who needs to memorize?

Not so fast.

This week Barbara O’Neal at Writer Unboxed wrote about The Powerful Nutrition of Poetry acknowledging that memorizing poetry is healthy. As healthy as taking your daily Robert Frost Gummy Vitamins.

Hallelujah! Memorizing poetry can make us smarter by enriching our gray matter. Which translates into making us better problem solvers, increasing our creativity, elevating our-thinking-on-our-feet ability, and frankly, making us more interesting.

But, honestly . . .

I don’t know anyone who likes to memorize. I don’t remember the last time I memorized a poem. Memorizing is fatiguing. Boring. And seemingly without reward.

But, on the flip side, if it will nourish my brain then I’m all in. (Four aunts and mom with Alzheimer’s. I’m looking for the cure and if poetry is it . . . I’m not that naïve.)

But, I will try.

I like tools. I like step-by-step game plans. I like easy. I like learning from the pros.

So I asked myself, who would know more about memorizing than actors?

In this article about the secret to actor’s memories, Michael Pennington insists that “Repetition, repetition, repetition.” works best.

Lesson: write out the poem on an index card. Read the poem. OUTLOUD.

He recommends acrostics and mnemonics that associate troublesome passages with a memorable story. Try to correspond lines of poetry with the story of the poem instead of learning word by word.

Lesson: Don’t focus on learning it word by word.

We memorize best “through chunks, phrases and patterns, often hammered into place by metre or by rhyme.”

Lesson: Learn chunks, phrases, and patterns.

Actor Lenny Henry advises to write down your lines, at least 10 times. Moving around also helps to fix the words.

I can attest to this. I once tried memorizing a large chunk of Greek literature. I wrote it on index cards and paced the basement, recalling a tidbit of something from a Kinesiology class. Some of us learn better when we fiddle or jitter and move around and fire up the neurons in our brain.

Lesson: Get Kinetic.

If you can, set the poem to music. Remember how we learned nursery rhymes? Make up actions, hand movements, get out your jump rope or hula hoop. If you know sign language, utilize your skills. If the poem doesn’t rhyme, try to find the patterns and connect them visually, orally, and audibly.

Here are the 5 Keys:

5 keys to memorizing poety

Encouragingly, Pennington notes that the actor Dame Gwen Ffrangeon-Davies, who lived to the age of 101, never ceased to commit fresh lines to memory.” She would learn a new piece of poetry every day until she died. It has to be good for the brain.”

If memorizing a poem a day has been helpful for a dame . . .  that’s good enough for me.

I’ll start Monday.

After my diet.

What about you? Do you memorize poetry? Have any other tips? How has it helped you?


Additional Reading: Poetry by Heart competition

When Poetry Converts to Prayer

One thing we can all agree with . . . poets are observers. Of people, patterns, and paradox. Of emotion,  enigmas, and ethos. In silence, sleep, and seclusion we ruminate and reflect. We roll around in the spring pansies and willow boughs and write their joy. In winter, we examine snowflake designs and compose similes. On the street, we trade sighs with strangers, mirroring life’s struggles, and we sculpt  slant rhymes to save for a sonnet or cinquain.

Our hearts are often saturated with emotion. Our minds are like Spirographs. This sometimes makes it difficult to honor our craft. We feel what belongs to others. It’s impossible not to. Is this intuition? Or instinct? Empathy? Insight?

William Wordsworth said,

“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”


For me, digging into this avalanche of emotion can make it difficult to unearth the tranquility necessary to whittle a poem with artistry and skill. Even in seclusion my mind often races. I struggle to burrow through my mind’s Spirographed agitation (inspiration?) to expose versed thoughts.

When this happens, I turn my rough-hewn poetic thoughts  into prayers.

My mother is slowly dying of Alzheimer’s.  Sometimes she doesn’t know me. One thing she does know, however, is that something is not right. She just  doesn’t know what.

Yesterday she asked me to pray for her.

Today she prayed to die.

I need to do something with the overflow of emotion in my heart. I cannot write a poem to express the powerful sorrow and pain I feel for her.  I cannot write of my grief. I am unable to dig through the sands of sentiment to even find a poem inside me.

So, I turned to prayer and other poets to do what I cannot.

C.S. Lewis writes of death after prayers. I find it comforting. Even in his despair and after his death, he has connected with me through his poetry and prayers. Isn’t that what poetry is supposed to do?  Isn’t this why we write it? This season of my life,  I’ll hold onto my faith and the poetry of others to express what’s hidden in my heart.

“After Prayers, Lie Cold” by C. S. Lewis

Arise my body, my small body, we have striven
Enough, and He is merciful; we are forgiven.
Arise small body, puppet-like and pale, and go,
White as the bed-clothes into bed, and cold as snow,
Undress with small, cold fingers and put out the light,
And be alone, hush’d mortal, in the sacred night,
-A meadow whipt flat with the rain, a cup
Emptied and clean, a garment washed and folded up,
Faded in colour, thinned almost to raggedness
By dirt and by the washing of that dirtiness.
Be not too quickly warm again. Lie cold; consent
To weariness’ and pardon’s watery element.
Drink up the bitter water, breathe the chilly death;
Soon enough comes the riot of our blood and breath.


Maybe tomorrow, after my prayers,  I’ll feel inspired to write my mom a poem.