“But you need that contrast!”

Today I was able to cross another goal off my Day Zero list—specifically, the goal about having an opinion on a poem in a Willow Springs meeting.

I consider poetry to be my weakest of the three genres we publish at Willow Springs, and though I’d been going to the meetings for a year, I had yet to have an unasked for opinion. Until today the extent of my contribution had been to raise (or not raise) my hand when voting on who liked a poem, or once trying to articulate something that sounded like an original thought after being asked what I thought. I’m not an authority on poetry and so I’ve always been afraid of saying something completely off the mark.

Today, however, I spoke up not once, but twice! First, to talk about how I thought we needed contrast between two adjacent images in a poem and second, to talk about how I’d had a very strong negative reaction to a second poem. (I don’t want to go into more detail here since these are submissions to the magazine.)

In other, less exciting news, Mid-American Review rejected my short story, so I think it’s now time for me to start submitting to magazines that are a tier lower in prestige. I expected this to happen (this is the second story I’ve ever submitted, after all), but it still makes me a bit depressed. What’s also interesting though is that none of the other journals that rejected this piece really bothered me that much until now. No idea why this was the one that incited that change.

What’s all this poetic stuff?

I’ve been meaning to get more involved with Willow Springs for awhile now, and today I put those intentions into action by attending the tri-weekly poetry meeting. I read the packet of 40ish poems, picked out the ones I liked the best, and then sat and listened to the poets discuss the half of the packet we managed to get to. I must say, I learned some very important things.

First, our poets are very smart and very articulate about each piece’s strengths and weaknesses.

Second, with fewer poets on staff than fiction writers, the meeting allowed everyone opportunity to discuss while in fiction I feel that the more outspoken people sometimes run the conversation. I think some voices will just be more silent in a bigger meeting.

And third, I don’t know all that much about poetry.

Granted, I was aware of that third bit before. I didn’t study poetry much in college, and I certainly never looked at it from a writer’s perspective. I always asked What does it mean? rather than Does it work? So far, all the pieces I liked received pretty negative feedback. Of course, even now I can’t say why I liked them–maybe because I found them simple enough to begin interpreting.

Still, when it comes to poetry, there is hope for the fictionists of the world. Much of the discussion was reminiscent of my fiction classes: Who is the speaker? What’s the occasion for the poem (story)? Where is the turn?

What it really comes down to is form. Yes, each genre has its conventions (such as those nonfictionists always wanting to tell the truth). But advanced levels should be discussing things that transcend form and genre-specific conventions, thus opening up esoteric seeming forms to the broader audiences.

So all you prose writers out there, I bring you this challenge: Find a poem and study it. Ask yourself why it works or doesn’t work (for you). Think about the choices the poet made in diction, punctuation, line breaks, etc. Then think about how you can apply some of those same techniques to your own writing, to your own form.

And maybe next meeting I’ll comment on some of my own preferences.