Issue 10: Pandemically Made

"remember what it was like/when it was safe/to hold you?"

As our society continues to ebb and flow amongst this strange pandemic sea, we are finding ourselves once more at some unknown precipice: where we must confront our new lives and who we have to become. As more and more of the population is vaccinated against COVID-19 and restrictions are lifted all around us, what we will return to find?

Pandemic Poetry

Even if you left poetry alone for months, or if poetry tumbled from your memory as if from a sieve, it is still out there somewhere, mushrooming from every dark and lonely and unkempt place. Poetry is still alive and well, pandemic be damned.

One project that developed in March 2020 was PandemicPoems.org. Poet Kate Belew began writing poetry with friends over email, which soon grew into her collaborating with strangers virtually to write new poems together and publishing them on her website. Belew was approached by The Poetry Society of New York and asked to collaborate on a long-form poetry experiment featuring 103 sonnets. As PSNY explains:

PSNY and Pandemic Poems strung these sonnets together, one after the other, into a sonnet crown (or "corona")…We proposed to Kate the concept of an epic sonnet crown not just because of the “corona” element, but because a sonnet is a poem with a problem to solve. We hope that together we all could write our way through this crisis, dig until we found the line that helped us remember where we were and what we learned.

You can read the entire piece here, but this is one of my favorites by Saki Wang and Teresa Mettela:

Days bleed, and when the stars appear, they grieve.
Endless banter, gone with morning sunlight --
I've learned to cover memory unto shirtsleeve.
Fairy dust on wooden floorboards, aimless,
sits at the edge of my shadow, challenging my wholeness.
picked apart by the pieces of us. I thought
the light and stucco alone is enough,
but through the looking glass I see bodies,
a barrel of bruised pears, pried through the sniper-
moon, sending apologies to the sky.
The stars had never willed to be there.
Can you separate fiction from gospel?
A red-winged bird has sunk into the ceiling.
A firing squad would at least be quick.

All of these isolated voices came together to create new collective breaths of fresh air; this work reminded me of how I’ve personally latched onto poetry, art, and collaboration to push myself through the coronavirus era.

I didn’t start this week thinking I’d write a pandemic-inspired piece, but honestly, how could any of my work avoid the pandemic’s influence? As writers our daily lives and emotions become entangled in our work, often unbeknownst to us. My everyday encounters, conversations, thoughts, and feelings all become threads that weave my pieces together.

Truthfully, I have been too exhausted mentally and emotionally to write consistently as of late. A year-long global pandemic, new full-time job, and an abundance of screen-time has worn me thin, so you could say the theme this week chose itself:

Spring in Cathedral Park

you pick a shady spot,
noon along the riverfront
underneath the sea-foam bridge
where the graffiti
is a roadmap
and everyone breathes easy—
and it cannot touch us here.

embraces replaced
with lingering eyes
while a song somewhere
carries over the water:
settles on the skin,
distance closes in 
as it always has—

just as the tide, or the mist
or the crack in pavement,
or the mud soaking through
the picnic blanket, or the 
time lost to time and the
way we’ve worn down—

remember what it was like
when it was safe
to hold you?

in this new place,
under this new sun, 
we find our arms are open;
and it cannot touch us here.

I began this piece because I wanted to remember how it felt to lie in the almost-summer sun, but it became a piece centered on longing: to shake hands, to hug, to hold once again in this new world we are creating for each other. How am I writing my way through this crisis? Invariably, through the documentation of who I am now, the parts of life I miss, the things I hope to do soon…and despite life’s push and pull, I hope to keep writing it all down for you.

Write Your Own

This week, I ask you to write a poem on the topic we have often tried to distract ourselves from: the pandemic. Begin by asking yourself a couple questions:

  1. How has this time period shaped you? Who were you before, and who are you now?

  2. What are things that you enjoyed before, but are unable to do now?

  3. What are you hopeful for?

Use these questions as a bridge to begin a piece centering on you or your current emotional state. This could even be a poem you reserve for your diary or journal rather than sharing, like a personal reflection of sorts. Use this prompt as a way to process the difficult emotions that you have felt or faced during this time.

Final Thoughts

I know it’s been some time since my last newsletter, but yes, I’ve still been writing! Thank you for your patience as I get back into the swing of weekly poetry craft. I hope to have another “hive poem” on Instagram soon, so feel free to follow me there if you want to suggest a type of verse or words for an upcoming word bank.

I appreciate that you’re here to read what I’ve crafted each week, and I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to send me an email at hello@megancrayne.com anytime to offer feedback, ask questions, or even to suggest future topics to discuss in this newsletter.

I hope you’re enjoying the spring— how is the weather where you are?

\\

Megan

Issue 9: Endings

"I try to be a fig / and let myself fall /ripe, / to the ground."

How do we finish a poem? How do we find that line that brings our words to a close, that leaves the reader feeling content or in awe or enraged? Let’s wax poetic about endings this week.

Revisiting the Final Line

One morning I was waking up by making a pot of coffee and listening to the Vs podcast, which led me to hear and then read Eve Ewing’s Affirmation (to youth living in prison after Assata Shakur)1:

Speak this to yourself
until you know it is true.
I believe that I woke up today
and my lungs were working,
miraculously,
my voice can sing and murmur and ask,
miraculously.
My hands may shake, but they can hold
me, or another.
My blood still carries the gifts of the air
from my heart to my brain,
miraculously.
Put a finger to my wrist or my temple
And feel it: I am magic. Life
and all its good and bad and ugly things
scary things which I would like to forget
beautiful things which I would like to remember
-- the whole messy lovely true story of myself
pulses within me.
I believe that the sun shines
if not here, then somewhere.
Somewhere it rains,
and things will grow green and wonderful.
Somewhere inside me, too, it rains,
and things will grow green and wonderful.
Sometimes my insides rain from the inside out.
And then I know
I am alive
I am alive
I am alive

I suddenly felt so seen and affirmed in who I was and who I could be. Who wouldn’t? I was alive. I was crying at the edge of the kitchen counter, forgetting the coffee, letting it grow cold. Ewing’s poem hits me in a similar way that Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise2 does, welling up the same depth of emotion:

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Angelou’s poem is a masterclass in repetition and refrain; by the time your eyes read that final verse, your body feels, with every breath, that ending coming— the building, the tension, and the ultimate release. I rise, I rise, I rise.

Ewing’s thrice refrain rings out like a delicate bell, too, her words becoming an anthem: I am alive, I am alive, I am alive. Both poems describe finding security within themselves despite the incomprehensible pain and trauma of racism, violence, and circumstance.

Of course, not every ending needs to be a call to action. An ending should represent the final note your audience leaves with; maybe it is a question, or a universal truth, or it calls back to earlier verses. Maybe it is an answer, or a final twist, or a sudden shift in tone. Here is another masterful ending I love, Maggie Nelson’s Spirit:3

The spirit of Jane 
lives on in you,
my mother says

trying to describe
who I am. I feel like the girl
in the late-night movie

who gazes up in horror
at the portrait of
her freaky ancestor

as she realizes 
they wear the same
gaudy pendant

round their necks.
For as long as I can
remember, my grandfather

has made the same slip:
he sits in his kitchen,
his gelatinous blue eyes

fixed on me. Well Jane, 
he says, I think I’ll have
another cup of coffee.

Finding my “last words”

I wrote the following poem this week, but in all honesty, I struggled with the ending for days and days. Like every week, I knew I would be sharing it with you. Sharing a poem that is fresh and unseen is always like opening the door to a new therapist’s office, except I never look you in your eyes and read it to you. I can’t see your face as you read over each word. I can’t hear your intake of breath. And I’ll never know, truly, if you even like them; yet, I bare it all for you.

I can’t exactly offer much advice for how to find the ending you want, other than give yourself space when you feel stuck on an ending. I often find a better line when I take a few days off from a poem and come back to it with a different eye.

Another piece of advice I’m sure I will repeat often is some I received from a college professor in my creative writing program: “poets often write past their own ending”. Which essentially means— know when to pull back and edit your final stanzas. You might have already written past the ending, so cut, cut, cut.

every species of tropical fig tree has its own fig wasp that evolved with it.

when the spring sun
brings bumblebees
to the yard,
 
I'm shaking in
the spots I held
venom in

last year, on a hike,
I slipped in the dirt
and a wasp swarm
burst out of the earth
to engulf me
 
I try to be a fig
and let myself fall
ripe, 
to the ground.
 
I am the tree,
 
I am blooming.
 
the wasps
pollinate me
 
and I am not
screaming.
 
I am evolving.
 
and I forgive them:
 
all those honey
creatures and wings
and yellow wounds
 
I have nothing against
figs or any wasp at all
 
what else can we do
with the hate we are born with—
except sting

And in the spirit of honesty and of posterity and of endings, I thought I’d share some of my cut final lines:

they are born
with that stinger
and that hate

|||

they are born
with that stinger
and that fire

|||

they are born
with that stinger
and that taste
of fruit and
pain

The more I look at these trashed lines, the more content I am with how this poem evolved. That doesn’t mean I’m ever really done with a piece; I often revisit old poems and rewrite them, mixing them up into something completely new.

write your own

How will you focus on your ending in your next piece? This week:

  1. Try stealing an ending to write a poem.4 Choose a poem you love, or open a poetry collection and turn to a random page. Take the last line of that poem and either make that your first line or your ending line. You can do this with any book on your shelf, too; take the first sentence, last sentence, a sentence from a random page — anything that can give you a place to construct a poem around.

  2. Create a poem inspired by Ewing and Angelou. Create a refrain, line or phrase that you repeat throughout your poem, and use this as your final line or final three lines.

  3. Find an old poem, and steal your favorite line to be your ending. Dig into your own archives and steal a line to be your penultimate verse. Can you write a unique piece with a different story, theme, or idea than the original?

Final Thoughts

I’m still adjusting to the workflow of returning to full-time work, but I did manage to take a short break to relax with Taylor L. Ciambra (t.l.c.poetry) for their birthday this week. Not only are they an incredible poet, but they’re a joyous light and fantastic best friend. We sat out in the cool evening for hours, dining and sharing life’s goings-on, tiny birds occasionally stopping to eat the birdseed from the morning. This is a time for reconnecting and basking in the glow of dear friends, which I hope you get to do soon, virtual or distanced or however you can.

I frequently post stanzas on Instagram, as well as my thoughts on social justice, capitalism, and the literary world on Twitter. Come find me there and let’s talk our favorite final lines!

\\

Megan

Resources:

Issue 8: Hidden Messages

"my veins are the shape of your hands"

Growing up, one of my favorite book series was A Series of Unfortunate Events. Each of the thirteen novels chronicled the misfortunate lives of three orphaned siblings trying to survive being hunted by a mysterious villain, a spy attempting to steal their enormous fortune. I became quickly obsessed with this series not only because of the sarcastic, dark humor present in the writing and its portrayal of a strong, independent young girl, but because of the author’s inclusion of secret codes and messages hidden throughout its novels and ephemera.

Like many novelists, poets often infuse their work with a set intention or meaning; this may be blatant or obvious from the onset, or the writer may use literary tools to purposefully conceal it. Some may attempt to hide other messages within their poems to build upon the text’s inherent meaning.

Steganography, or the act of concealing messages inside images, text, or a physical object, has long been in use by writers, artists, and cryptographers alike. Steganographic art tries not to attract attention to itself so that its message can only be found by those who know what they are looking for.

The Practice of Steganography in Poetry

One way that poets can hide a message inside their verses is through acrostic poetry. This means that either the first letter or first word of every line spells out a word, name, or message. A famous example is "An Acrostic” by Edgar Allen Poe:1

Elizabeth it is in vain you say
"Love not" — thou sayest it in so sweet a way:
In vain those words from thee or L.E.L.
Zantippe's talents had enforced so well:
Ah! if that language from thy heart arise,
Breath it less gently forth — and veil thine eyes.
Endymion, recollect, when Luna tried
To cure his love — was cured of all beside —
His follie — pride — and passion — for he died.

Poe’s title makes his acrostic obvious, and is less of an example of pure steganography. If you don’t tell your reader there is an acrostic, the more likely your message will remain hidden, save for the lucky few who notice the pattern you’ve created.

Acrostics have often been a ‘dangerous’ tool. One poet received a lifelong ban from publishing in Poetry Magazine for an acrostic that name-dropped another poet and called him an “ass”. Top Gear’s James May was once fired from a publication for using an acrostic to spell out the message: “So you think it's really good? Yeah, you should try making the bloody thing up. It's a real pain in the arse."2 I suppose the real message here is maybe don’t use the word “ass” in your acrostic if you’re attempting to publish it. Or do, and let me know how it goes.

There are other variations of an acrostic that a poet can utilize to conceal a word or phrase. A telestitch is when the last letter or word of each line forms a message, and can be used alongside an acrostic to form a double-acrostic. A mesostic poem hides each letter of a message within the middle of a line, arranging the text so the word can be read vertically. Here’s an example within this poem, “KITCHEN”3:


  let us maKe       
      of thIs       
      modesT         
        plaCe     
    a room Holding 
tons of lovE        
       (&, Naturally, much good food, too)

So for this week’s fresh poem, I decided to take a line that I wrote a couple weeks ago and hide it within a new poem. I won’t tell you which technique I used, but I hope you enjoy finding it.

Some nights I’m lying beside you


hear the vessel of my
body. listen to the veins

to the tenor of the throat— are
we under the influence of oxygen? the

pulse of lips, song in the shape
of your lungs, all the nerves of

our hearts in a chorus, your
harmony alive in my hands

Write your own

What sort of message would you want to conceal? Maybe you want to share a secret with a friend, or profess your love for someone within a letter. Using an acrostic, telestitch, or a mesostic, I’m challenging you to hide a message this week within your poetry.

  1. Choose your word or hidden message. Write it out on the page vertically so you can see how many lines you will need to write around the letterforms.

  2. Choose your form - do you want to create a typical acrostic, where the first letter or word spells out your message? Do you want to write out each word, or only use each beginning or ending letter? If you’re writing a mesostic, do you want to capitalize each letter or leave them lowercase, only giving certain readers the “instructions” for how to decipher it?

  3. For an additional challenge, write a double-acrostic where both the first letters of each line and the last letters of each line form a message. Or, you can choose a certain spot in each line — maybe the third letter, or the sixth letter — and have your reader search your text or poem and circle the letters to read your message.

Like always, please feel free to share your poetry with me. That is, if you’re okay with me deciphering your hidden message…


Final Thoughts

Better late than never — normally these newsletters come much earlier in the week, but it’s not unusual for me to lose track of time. I hope my words are finding you well, wherever you are.

This weekend, I did manage to enjoy the warmer weather and get outside. Of course, “warm” in this context doesn’t necessarily mean “without snow”. I’ll leave you with a couple photos from our latest hike to Benham Falls in the Deschutes National Forest:

I frequently post stanzas on Instagram, as well as my thoughts on social justice, capitalism, and the literary world on Twitter. Come find me there and let’s talk words!

\\

Megan

Resources:

Issue 7: Lyric Poetry

"What scars into the wood are bore / what fire, what plague, what of before"

If there were ever a time for lyric poetry, it’s now, on the eve of our quarantine-versaries. All we want to do is touch our loved ones and be in the presence of friends, but we might only have words. Rather than telling a story like in narrative poetry, a lyric poem expresses deep emotion or feeling, often using a first-person point of view.

Writing Lyric Poetry

There are many forms beneath the umbrella term “lyric poetry” — sonnets, villanelles, odes — but contemporary lyric poetry can also be free verse. Although lyric poems of antiquity were often put to music or the sounds of a lyre, poets today are not restricted to crafting song lyrics. Lyric poems can have a musical quality that manifests through literary devices like meter, rhyme, and refrain. As they rely less on a narrative or plot to guide the poem, most are short with less stanzas than a long, narrative poem. The main elements that define a lyric poem are:

  • a personal point of view, generally first person with a specific speaker

  • an expression of an emotion, thought, or feeling

Here is an example of a lyric poem by Louise Bogan, Song for the Last Act1:


Now that I have your face by heart, I look   
Less at its features than its darkening frame   
Where quince and melon, yellow as young flame,   
Lie with quilled dahlias and the shepherd’s crook.   
Beyond, a garden. There, in insolent ease
The lead and marble figures watch the show   
Of yet another summer loath to go
Although the scythes hang in the apple trees.

Now that I have your face by heart, I look.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read   
In the black chords upon a dulling page   
Music that is not meant for music’s cage,
Whose emblems mix with words that shake and bleed.   
The staves are shuttled over with a stark   
Unprinted silence. In a double dream   
I must spell out the storm, the running stream.   
The beat’s too swift. The notes shift in the dark.

Now that I have your voice by heart, I read.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see
The wharves with their great ships and architraves;   
The rigging and the cargo and the slaves
On a strange beach under a broken sky.
O not departure, but a voyage done!
The bales stand on the stone; the anchor weeps
Its red rust downward, and the long vine creeps   
Beside the salt herb, in the lengthening sun.

Now that I have your heart by heart, I see.

This poem not only uses rhyming throughout, but creates a refrain: now that I have your face, now that I have your voice, now that I have your heart. While it doesn’t use a consistent meter, this poem brings you into the world as the speaker sees it, including the way they feel and know love.

For this week’s hive poem, I wanted to hone in on expressing an existential thought that has been burdening my mind for a while. So imagine with me, if you will, that you are in a kayak on a serene lake somewhere, and the sun is high and the wind is swift—

kayaking on lake kachess


countless stumps of aged trees
a person-wide and drowned beneath
the icy waters crystal blue
clear enough to see right through:
every trunk beyond my reach,
I stop to count the rings of each.

What scars into the wood are bore——
what fire, what plague, what of before——

Then——I see myself inside the lake,
	rooted still below the wake.

	Each of my rings around and round,
	cascading down and earthly bound:

	When I held your eyes and the poison grew,
	the ice and the thaw and the light broke through.
	When the door was locked and the floodgate quaked,
	I witnessed the smoke and all that it takes;
	of the wasp and the swarm and the bark as it burned,
        as I sang your name——but you never returned.

But now—— 	ashore. 	——I cannot see
	what has all become of me?

What parts of life become rings, too?
What parts of me would circle through?

	How deep      my lake? 
			How wide      my rings?

The trees—
			the trees

					were every thing

I chose to go with rhyming couplets this week, mostly because I know I’ll force myself to write a villanelle or an ode soon (and, if I have to rhyme, I love the simple beauty of couplets). Another trope of mine you’ve probably noticed is how often I ask questions in my poems. Will I ever stop? Will I ever dare break from this terrible mold I’ve created for myself? I digress.

Write your own lyric poem

You might be saying: Megan, how do I write a lyric poem, when there aren’t clear rules? With lyric poetry, you have the chance to either write something more restrictive, like a sonnet with a set rhyme scheme, or something more free and loose. Just remember to use a first-person point of view and focus on a personal, deep, or private emotion.

If this expansive prompt leaves you feeling a little stuck, here are a couple exercises you can try:

  • When was the last time you laughed deeply and fully with your entire chest? Write about that feeling, from your own perspective. Where are you? Who are you with? What does that deep joy feel like?

  • Think about a visceral, physical experience you’ve had in the last couple years. It could be intense and traumatic, like being stung by a swarm of wasps, or it could be innocuous, like a hike or a long bike-ride. Make a list of images from that experience: how your body feels, the world around you, words you heard someone say. Describe this experience using only these images and one speaker; avoid turning the experience into a story with a clear resolution or plot.

  • Go for a walk—doesn’t have to be far, as long as you change up your environment or scenery. Find somewhere you can sit and observe, and write down some tactile images: the landscape around you, the buildings or trees or nature you can see, the sounds you hear, smells that waft past you and disappear. Choose one or all of these images to write your poem.

Like always, if you write a lyric poem, please share it with me—I’d love to see what you write.

About hive poems

Hive poems are poems I write weekly with the help of my friends on Instagram. Sometimes I restrict myself to word banks using nouns and verbs people submit to me, or I run a poll so that you can choose my poetic form of the week. Want to be a part of this madness? I’ll be posting call-outs for suggestions every Sunday in my Instagram stories.

Final Thoughts

It’s now the third week of my new job, and despite one incredibly debilitating migraine, I’ve been learning so much and am incredibly grateful to be working for a publishing house. It feels like the culmination of years of hard work and I’m so humbled to be working with other people that are just as passionate as I am about making books.

I hope you have a wonderful week, and that you aren’t dwelling too long as you reflect on our year of continued confinement. I’m enjoying some brief Oregon sunshine—our “fool’s spring”—before next week’s cool rain and possible snow. Wherever you are, I hope you’re getting some sun or taking your vitamins!

I frequently post stanzas on Instagram, as well as my thoughts on social justice, capitalism, and the literary world on Twitter.

\\

Megan

Issue 6: How Not to Read Poetry

Or, a treatise on loving poems without being an expert

Coming out of my week-long haiku writing binge, I knew that I needed a rest from writing. I wanted to explore new ways to read more poetry and read it more often in my daily life.

If you aren’t a heavy reader of poetry, that’s okay. I consider myself a poet, but don’t consider myself an expert at keeping up with the “Poetry World”. I’m sure plenty of poets feel this way, too; the literary world can feel academic and downright exclusive, especially if you’re unpublished, un-agented, and without a significant online following.

So how then, can we expose ourselves to new and challenging poetry if we don’t feel like experts in poetry? How do we dip our toes into the poetry world and not feel bogged down by how others say we should be reading poems?

Today, I’m offering you my treatise on the matter, or:

How Not to Read Poetry

There are plenty of articles, books, and advice on the subject of reading poetry, and most assume you have a working knowledge of literary terms, forms, and devices. But, I don’t agree that you need a degree, knowledge of poetic form, or any particular background in writing to appreciate poetry.

Poetry existed before the written word as a form of art, usually recited or sung as a way to retell oral history, share stories, and perform music. It has existed before academia and will persist for as long as we have words.

Why are we drawn to verse and to rhythm and to rhyme? It mesmerizes. It moves us to tears, it enrages us, and it can change how we perceive our world and ourselves. Poetry is a powerful tool, and belongs to all of us, regardless of class, gender, or background. It transcends the imaginary boundaries that we place between ourselves and those that are unlike us.

So how do we even begin to read it, especially if we don’t feel like a “poetry expert”? Shake off those worries; here is my guide to approaching and loving poetry.


Don’t analyze. Feel and visualize instead.

Forget the classroom. Forget the anthologies of literature and your teacher postulating about metaphors. When you’re reading a new poem, don’t tear it apart at the seams by finding each simile and end rhyme and pun.

Yes, of course, poets agonize about punctuation and which word to put in what order, while spending hours deciding if they should use “moon” or “enormous bright orb”. That doesn’t mean you, as a reader, need to break a poem apart to give it meaning.

Approach every poem you read with the idea that it is meant to be felt. After finishing a poem, sit with yourself for a moment and ask:

How did this poem make me feel?

If you have the time, close your eyes and visualize the images from the poem you just read. What scenes come to your mind’s eye after reading? Did the poem remind you of any memories or experiences that you’ve had in the past?


Don’t read a poem just once.

Take your time and return to a poem again and again, especially if you hated it at first read. Come back to the poem in a day or two and see if you feel anything different.

Are there any lines or phrases you missed the first time that hit you differently now?


Don’t just read inside your head: read out loud!

If you’re having trouble “figuring it out”, try searching to see if there is a video of that poem being read aloud, or read the poem out loud to yourself. This works better if you are in a quiet place where you won’t disturb your family or strangers with your poetic musings.

If you decide to read aloud, try reading it in different ways. First, read slowly, pausing at the end of each break where the line stops and a new one starts. Then try reading it like one long sentence, only breaking to take a breath or when you see punctuation.

You might find you experience the poem in an entirely new way by hearing it instead of reading it. Did the meaning of the words change for you? How about the images that came to your mind? Are you feeling any new emotions that you didn’t feel during your first read?


Don’t try to “get” it. You don’t have to.

Still having trouble deciphering what a poem is trying to convey? That’s okay. You have my full permission to read a poem and say, “I don’t understand this. That poem is not for me.”

Just like when a die-hard science fiction fan attempts to read a pulp romance novel, you might find that you are not the audience for every poem you read. Like with books, there are so many different genres of poetry that exist, and it sometimes takes time to find the kind of poems that speak to you.

Try stepping outside of the poetry box by exploring other genres, like spoken word or song lyrics. You’re bound to find a poem meant for you.


Don’t assume poets are writing the truth.

Poets, like many writers of fiction, are not always writing poems from personal experience (with some notable exceptions, like confessional poetry and lyrical memoirs). If there is ever an I, me, or my in a poem you’re reading, don’t assume those refer to the writer themselves. Generally, those pronouns refer to “the speaker” of the poem.

Anyone and anything can be the speaker in a poem— a dog, a building, a worn and weathered cardigan, or even you as the reader. The poet writes a poem with a particular speaker in mind, like a person who has been through a terrible disaster or a tree losing its leaves in the fall. But as you read a poem, that “speaker” can morph into whoever you want it to be. That is the magic of poetry, and an example of that transcendence I mentioned earlier.

After you read a poem, reflect on “the speaker”. Did your poem have a speaker, and if so, who did you visualize in your head? Could this poem work with a different speaker? Read it again, this time changing the speaker in your mind. Does this change the meaning of the poem for you?


Don’t keep poetry to yourself.

Poetry means more when it is shared, so if you find a poem that speaks to you, send it to a friend or a loved one.

If you are struggling to share your own experiences or emotions, try finding a poem that expresses how you’re feeling instead. Poetry can be an incredible way to connect with others, so begin saving your favorites for special occasions like birthdays, holidays, and for whenever you need to put your feelings into words.

They’re perfect for scribbling onto torn pieces of paper and sticking into a pocket for a friend to find, or inside of a card you picked out for someone you love.

Whatever you do, don’t keep a good poem to yourself.


Don’t hide from poetry. Go hunting for it.

Now that you have this handy guide, I hope you’re ready to hunt for new poems to read. Here are a few places you can start:

  • Check out poetry collections online. The internet is brimming with free online poetry collections, like Poets.org, The Poetry Foundation, The National Poetry Library, The Poetry Archive, and more.

  • Listen to a poetry podcast. I suggest checking out VS with Franny Choi and Danez Smith, Poem-a-Day by the Academy of American Poets, and exploring the poets that have been interviewed for NPR’s On Being. If those aren’t your style, there are plenty more podcasts on poetry.

  • Listen or watch poetry recordings online. Delve into the extensive repository of audio recordings on The Poetry Foundation’s website. Or if you’re interested in spoken word or slam poetry, you can start with YouTube accounts like Button Poetry and Poetry Slam Inc.

  • Find a poetry event going on locally and attend. If this pandemic ever ends, attending a local poetry open-mic or spoken word reading can expose you to poetry from members of your local community. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many poets have gone digital, hosting “virtual” poetry readings, and you can find events near you at Poets.org.

  • Check out the poetry sections at your local bookstore or library. One of my favorite ways to discover new poetry is to check out the stacks at my local bookstore. Chatting up a librarian or asking an employee for a recommendation might lead you to a new poet, or you can explore the shelves on your own until a book calls to you. Don’t forget you can browse for poetry books on sites like Bookshop or even your local library’s website.

  • Subscribe to a poetry or literary magazine. There are plenty of these to find online to read digitally, or you can opt for a physical issue to come straight to your door, like Poetry magazine.

  • Subscribe to this newsletter, if you haven’t already! Every week, I share a poetic form or topic, write a poem based on that topic using suggestions from friends, and share prompts for writing your own.


This week I deviated a bit from my typical form, but I hope this guide can be a valuable resource for you as a reader and lover of poetry. I’ll be returning next week with my regularly scheduled poems—so stay tuned!

Interested in all the haikus I wrote last week? They’re all on Instagram for you to browse. As always, I’m sharing my thoughts on social justice, capitalism, and the literary world on Twitter, so come hang out with me there, too. Stay warm, my winter-worn friends!

𓅥 𓆤

Megan

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