Poetry Sucks, Beats, and Twists

As I’ve mentioned before, the time when I wasn’t noveling was one of the most depressing, despairing times I’ve ever gone through.

The good news is that the experience led to one of the most uplifting, life-changing conclusions I’ve ever reached:

If I want to feel content, if I want to be able to function like a human being, then I have to be writing stories.

I have to be writing novels.

It’s what I was created to do — and if I’m not doing it, I start falling apart.


Poetry Is Like a Vacuum Cleaner

There is another side to this story. Over the last year, I’ve realized that the more I immerse myself in my novels, the more my poetry sucks.

When I was 12, I pulled a book off my mom’s shelf: How Does A Poem Mean? by John Ciardi. In his book, he talks some of the hows of turning emotion and experience into words. I didn’t understand all of it, but what I did understand made me sit down and start poetizing. I haven’t stopped since.

Poetry Is Like a Heartbeat

In an address at Brigham Young University in 1963, Ciardi also spoke these lines of pure beauty:

Poetry is not inherently moral or immoral. It is like a heartbeat. There is no moral or immoral heartbeat.


Poetry Is Like a Car Engine

My very best poetry has come out of my darkest days. When I’m at my most miserable, my poetry is at its most touching and most resonant.

So, in a way, it’s a trade-off: When I’m noveling, I feel good. When I feel good, I can’t write a lot of poetry. The stories and the poems come from two different places. Or maybe it’s the same place, but the Muse chooses different tools to hand me.

I tinker. I twist. I turn and twirl with my tools, and sometimes I even tintinnabulate. Sometimes, after my twistinnabulation (howzat for poetic?), things start running smoothly. By which I mean they’re gritty and fundamental and from-the-heart bloody.

That’s when my poetry is beautiful.

Do you write poetry?

Do you want to write poetry, but you think you can’t?

Oh honey, please tell me you didn’t listen to someone who told you that you can’t. If that’s the case, we need to talk.

Writers of various genri*: Do you novel better than you poetize? Poetize better than you journal? Journal better than you prosate?

What makes the difference? Interest level? Emotional state? Mental condition?

The comments are yours, sweetlings. Let’s conversate. ; )

*One genre, two genri, I always say.

18 thoughts on “Poetry Sucks, Beats, and Twists

  1. Joshua Unruh says:

    So I don’t write poetry but I sorta feel like I should. The thing is, I don’t think I can make my brain work for poetry without a beat. Hip hop has taken over my brain when it comes to rhyme and meter.

    The downside of that is I don’t really know how to make beats and don’t have the time to invest in learning. This means I basically don’t write poetry.

    Did I mention that I feel like I should? I do scribble down lyrics every now and then but they don’t usually go anywhere. They’re usually just clever turns of phrase or metaphors that I’d like to use in the future. Only I don’t really write poetry.

    But I really feel like I should.

    • Josh, you might be interested to read the partial transcript of Ciardi’s Brigham Young talk, in which he talks about the syncopation in the phrase “a widgeon in a wicopy.” He used that phrase to craft a poem, and he did it simply because it had a good beat.

      I’m not sure I can help with the creation of a beat — unless you want to practice, practice, practice by writing copious amounts of poetry in iambic pentameter or somesuch. I sound cheeky, but I really mean it. I think you’d get a great feel for the rhythm that way.

      ‘Cuz if you really feel like you should write poetry, then you really should write poetry. Synchronicity, anyone? ; )

  2. It has been my experience that as much as we love writing poetry to express ourselves, nobody really wants to read poetry. Unless it’s for school. Or Shel Silverstein. So I think that if you want to write for other people, go ahead and continue writing your novels, and if you’re just writing for yourself, stop writing novels and get depressed. 😀

    • Hmmm…Jessie, you and I have quite the different set of experiences in this matter. I know quite a few people who enjoy reading poetry — even the people who don’t actually write it themselves. If nobody enjoyed it, I don’t think there’d be such a thing as a National Poet Laureate. 😉 (And as a side note, seeing/hearing a poet laureate perform his own poetry is a real treat.)

      I can’t stop writing novels. Been there, done that, hated it. I’m quite willing to sacrifice the poetry for the sake of the noveling. And I simply adore Shel Silverstein. : )

  3. Julie V. says:

    I hate the idea of poetry and find most of it boring, especially if written by me. I might hate it a little less when it’s clever or a haiku or if it comes along with doodles. I figure that it’s best put to music, but then I call it a song, not a poem. Mostly I don’t touch the stuff. I’m pretty sure it causes gangrene.

    I do appreciate a well-written poem; a thought provoking poem. A poem that I can taste. But generally, those aren’t written by yours truly.

    I like it when people write narrative that feels like it should be a poem, but I dislike it when people plunk poems down in the middle of their narrative.

    I do feel like poems that possess true sentiment should be included in a special category. There’s something very lovely about having a poem written just for you, no matter how well it’s written.

    • Julie, I think you hit the nail on your head in your final paragraph, when you mentioned “poems that possess true sentiment.” I’ve read a lot of poetry the sole goal of which seemed to be the utter confusion of anyone reading it. If there was any true sentiment in it, that sentiment was buried alive under a mound of surreal imagery and poor word choices. It had sediment instead of sentiment.

      Ha ha, I am funny. 😉

      I’d go so far as to say that the only good poetry is the poetry that possesses true sentiment — which does taste very good.

      Also, here is a poem I remembered* just for you:

      Haikus are easy
      but sometimes they make no sense.


      *Meaning I did not write it. I wish I had. Because I think it’s brilliant.

  4. Hi Courtney, whilst I was travelling, it dawned on me that I suck at writing novels. I have started and abandoned at least 5 over the years. I tried my hand to short stories, and felt like I was coming home. As for poetry, this has been my first love for years. Imagine the 8 yr old writing in huge scrawl

    ” I’m here, there and i’ve seen it all before”, and lots of other melancholic madness ( at least for an 8 year old). My mother has the evidence in her loft.

    I totally agree with you that my best poetry comes from my darkest days, where I’m hurting so much, it’s a case of write it down, or get two bottles of wine and straw and just go for it, lol.
    Occasionally I mix to the pass time, then it becomes even more melancholic. Glad to have connected with you

    • Stacey, it’s great to connect with you here, as well. And how wonderful that your mother still has the scrawled, poetic evidence! I love writerly keepsakes. : )

      Y’know, I wonder if anyone has dug around into why some people are attracted to writing longer works and others find themselves flourishing with the shorter. I have tried short stories and have found myself wanting, again and again. Something inside of me insists that everything turn into an epic!

      I’ve never mixed alcohol and poetry. I’m kind of afraid to find out what a blubbering, melodramatic mess that would make of me! 😉

  5. I wrote a lot of poems when I was in my teens pining away for whatever guy it was at the moment.

    I’m pretty sure most of them are terrible, but they have a lot of heart and soul in them. I also feel I’m not a good enough judge on good versus bad poetry to really make that claim one way or the other. Which makes me want to keep them hidden away even more.


    • Becca, I wrote quite a few such pining poems, myself. And I’m just as unwilling as you are to share them with the world. OH the drama! 😀

      Speaking of “judging” a “good” poem vs. a “bad” one…I’m not sure I know the criteria for that, either. I could be wrong, but to me it’s kind of like trying to judge a painting. One person might think it’s horrible; another thinks it’s beautiful. One critic says the technique is all wrong; another points out the masterful expression of emotion.

      “It’s all so subjective!” she lamented most heart-wrenchingly. ; )

      Maybe we all need to read Ciardi’s How Does a Poem Mean? and discuss the whats and wherefores. Hmmmmm…. *pondering Consortium reading assignments*

      Just kidding.

      Maybe. 😉

  6. Ah, well, it’s good to know that poetry appreciation is not dead–at least in your part of the world. I prefer the likes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, but I haven’t been to loud to proclaim it since my American Lit textbook labeled him as simple. 🙁

    • Jessie, proclaim it! I’ve always found textbook lit crit to be rather full of itself. They all praise the poets I don’t like and criticize the ones that speak to me. I choose to think that this says more about the critics’ need to be critical than it does about my soul’s poetic tastes. ; )

  7. Joshua Unruh says:

    Oh let’s do a reading assignment! Watch Jessie and I throw down as we discuss the relative merit of Longfellow versus Common or Mos Def!

    I actually have a few ready made beats I could practice with. I mostly need to stop making excuses and do it already. Iambic pentameter rap songs is an interesting concept though…

    • Josh, stop making excuses and do it already! And yes, watching you and Jessie throw down over Mos Def and Longfellow is definitely something I’d like to see. I might even pay to see it. Especially if there’s any nurturing involved. 😉

  8. Raven says:

    I like reading poetry but I don’t have the skill for it. I’ve come to appreciate poetry due to the books of J.R. Tolkien and how he wrote the merry poems or rhyming songs in it.

  9. Thanks for the visit and the comment, Raven! Yes, I can very much relate to loving Tolkien’s poetry. It’s funny because when I first read Lord of the Rings as a teen, I skimmed and skipped the poems and songs because I thought they were boring. But when I revisited them as an adult, I was amazed at how beautiful they are (Tinuviel especially). Thank goodness I grew into an appreciation of them! : )

  10. I love poetry..it does not sucks!

Leave a Reply to Joshua Unruh Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.