Teaching Myself Poetry Last Week: 3/18/19 – 3/25/19

For the second week in a row, here are a list of resources that I used this week to teach myself poetry and some thoughts I had on each. I listened to a lot of podcasts in the last week so it won’t just be books.  


  • How Writers Become Authors with K.M. Weiland: Episode 460 – How to Find your thematic principlehttps://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/thematic-principle/
    • This podcast in general really breaks down how to write a story. I have found in really helpful in the past in trying to understand general plot structure. While I don’t usually write fiction, I’ve found it useful to understand the parts of a story.
    • This particular episode was posted this week and discusses how to identify your theme.
    • Definition: Theme – a unifying idea or subject explored via a recurring pattern and expanded through comparison and contrasts.
    • Why I found it helpful:I’ve been thinking a lot lately on whether I need to work on themes in my poetry. I sometimes just write poems randomly describing an idea without really considering a theme. This general overview of what a theme is was a good refresher.
      • She talks about how different components of a story, and different characters can all work together to show the different sides of a theme. This reminded me of how Tony Hoagland describes statement and story working together in a poem. (see below). Tony also discusses different voices and characters in conversation – just like reflections on a theme.
  • Poetry Off The Shelf by The Poetry Foundation  Episode: poetry and/or advertisinghttps://www.poetryfoundation.org/podcasts/148281/poetry-and-or-advertising
    • A super interesting perspective on the use of language in copywriting and how poetic language can be used in advertising.
    • I’m always looking out for new ways to use poetry, not because I’m looking to make any changes. Just out of curiosity. It made me pause and think a bit about ways we use language and how poetry can be “useful”
    • In a time in which the simple of definition of poetry is under debate, this was an interesting thought experiment for me in where I draw the line between poetry and commercial.
    • It was also nice to hear someone else acknowledge the reality that someone who commits to being a poet, commits to being a poet/something else, because being a poet on its own is never enough.
      • Favorite Quote: “Poetry has always been an art form, but it has rarely been a career even for the most legendary poets. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive. Charles Bukowski held a bevy of odd jobs, including work as a dishwasher, a truck driver, a gas-station attendant, and a postal clerk. The poet’s story has long been one of a double life, split between two urgent duties: making a living and making art.”
  • Poetry Off The Shelf by The Poetry Foundation  Episode: Poetry Ritualshttps://www.poetryfoundation.org/podcasts/148156/poetry-rituals
    • Favorite part: “Write in your life as it is”
    • This episode is reporting on a specific poet who uses elaborate rituals before writing poems and creates rituals for others.
    • I love the quote of write in your life as it is because that is something I also firmly believe.
    • I will most likely never have anything near the extreme rituals he describes, but it did make me want to reflect on what rituals I do have and if I want to start any.
    • Relevant Book: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergI just read this earlier this month. The book is filled with suggestions about how to develop a writing practice.
      • When I read this book I tried a few but couldn’t get them to stick.  I am considering trying again
  • Poetry Off The Shelf by The Poetry Foundation  Episode: It’s the Language Stupidhttps://www.poetryfoundation.org/podcasts/144011/its-the-language-stupid
    • I really liked the discussion in this episode about how to actually read a poem.
    • Basically, the guy being interviewed in this podcast makes the point that the first step in reading a poem should be to read it and understand it literally. Don’t jump to coded messages.
    • The guy interviewed in this podcast also has a book, which I have already read. It was a while ago though and I don’t remember much. I will have to go back and review it.

I also tried out a new linguistics podcast this week because I enjoyed the book about constructed languages so much. Here are some of the podcast episodes I liked in particular.

  • Lingthusiasm Episode: The Verb is the Coat Rackhttps://lingthusiasm.com/post/182969748701/lingthusiasm-episode-29-the-verb-is-the-coat-rack
    • This episode did a great job of explaining what is a verb and how to break down a sentence. As is mentioned briefly in the episode, sometimes poets rearrange sentence structure to make the rhythm or rhyme work. I found this to be a good general overview of how sentences are constructed. I really liked their “verbs as a coat rack” analogy.


  • The Art of Voice by Tony Hoagland with Kay CosgroveI finished this book last week. I did not do any of the exercises at the back of the book, but I will admit that books that have exercises always get brownie points in my book. I like the idea that I can go back and do exercises if I want to work through the ideas more. 
    • One chapter discusses having multiple characters and voices in the poem and putting the voices in conversation. I have tried that myself in poems before. In reading the examples and how he breaks it down, I realized that one of my problems is that my two “voices” we’re not distinct. They both sounded like…well me.
    • The chapter on voices from our environment was fascinating. The idea was that “[o]ur environments – social, commercial, public, transnational, entertaining – are rife with ‘voices’ and linguistic resources” (page 84).  It focused on the culturally familiar “formulas of speech: prayers, curses, blessings, For Sale ads, cooking recipes, … wedding invitations” and so on. (page 86).  This reminded me of a section of of the book Flash! by John Dufresene which also had a section discussing how to write short fiction by taking advantage of these cultural formulas.
    • Interesting Quote: “…part of the power of free-verse poems comes from the interactive dynamic between statement and story…The relationship between these two elements of a poem – between abstract statement and physical detail – makes a fundamental claim on our attention as readers.” I mentioned this book last week but this reminded me of the the book, A Primer for Poets & Readers of Poetry by Gregory Orr. As I said last week, Orr outlines four categories of language use in poetry: naming, singing, saying, and imagining. Last week I was commenting on a quote about “namers”. This quote seems to be referring the the relationship and balance between naming and saying.  I plan to reread Primer soon.
      • Hoagland’s breakdown in The Art of Voice of where the abstract statement can fit into the poem among the naming and physical detail was very helpful and helped me realize which styles I preferred. This is an element of my poetry that I want to work on more.
    • Is the abstract statement the thematic principle or does it simply work towards the thematic principle?
    • Tony also discusses different voices and characters in conversation – just like reflections on a theme.
    • Interesting Quote: “It is a fact that poems sometimes actually provide us with a tutorial in how to feel and how to think, not just by telling our stories for us o by publicly emoting over what is usually left private, but by actually guiding us through the step-by-step process of how to metabolize memory.” (page 108)
  • Metaphors We Live By  by George Lackoff and Mark JohnsonI have not gotten far in this one yet. As it may be clear by the rest of this post, I had a bit of a busy week.
    •  I bought this book originally because metaphors are such a significant part of poetry and it seemed to be a book about how metaphors worked.
    • Since I originally bought it, I found it recommended in another book I was reading (The Art of Language Invention). I decided to move it up in the queue.
    • So far it is focusing on how we use metaphors to compare concepts and those comparisons come out in our language.  For example, the language we use to describe Time reinforces the idea that we compare Time to Money. “I wasted so much time today.”

Exercises/Challenges that I Tried

I had a bit of a writer’s block early in the week. I have just come off of a busy period and hadn’t written a new poem in a few days. I quickly found that just “deciding to write a poem” wasn’t going to work. Instead of wallowing in the block, I remembered to use one of my pre-determined writer’s block exercises that I set for myself a while ago – Rory’s Story Cubes.  https://www.storycubes.com/

For those of you who don’t know, Story Cubes are basically dice, except that they have icons on each side instead of dots. It is advertised for many things, including as a game for children.

After reflecting on last week’s focus on nouns and “namers”, I decided to use the Story Cubes to randomly create a poem prompt for myself each day but rolling a new set of 9 symbols. Based on the symbols that came up, I would try to write a poem using as many of the icons as possible, preferably in noun format.

The first day turned out a poem that was decent, though not my favorite. However, as a side effect, it did inspire me to write at least one other poem in a similar descriptive style without the need for a prompt. I didn’t end up doing it every day, but it definitely helped me get out of a poet’s block and creative rut. 



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