Read, from the bottom up

I was visiting in North Carolina this last weekend and was pleased to be able to attend a poetry function with an Open Mic event.  It was so much fun to hear some really great poetry and to see so many of my poetry friends.

One of the poems I listened to I was drawn into the story of the poem and then at the end the poet added an extra stanza to explain what we had been listening to.  For myself, I knew the poem would be a lot stronger without that last stanza.  Should I mention my opinion to the poet?  Would you?  It really was none of my business.  But, I thought I knew how to make the poem better.

So, at lunch time I approached the poet.  I didn’t blurt out my suggestion for the poet to take it or leave it.  I showed a little class.  I asked if the poem had been published.

“Not yet, but it’s been accepted in (fill in a journal name) and will come out next March.”

So, I had my information.  I knew the poet would not welcome my suggestion and I kept my mouth shut.  But strangely, I knew I didn’t want to submit to that journal in the future.

My poetry friends tease me that I can make their poems into haiku faster than a speeding bullet.  I’m constantly saying, “Take this out,” or “Omit this,” to their lovely poems.

I attended a poetry workshop led by Yusef Komunyakaa.  He advised to read a poem line by line from the bottom up.  If you listen carefully the poem will tell you where it wants to end.  I often try this with my poems and 9 times out of 10 the ending is somewhere different from where I thought.  This is also a great test to see if I have that gut-clencher end line I want for my poems.

Try it, you might like it.  And if you ever have an idea for improving MY poems, please tell me.


2 thoughts on “Read, from the bottom up

  1. I love your thoughts here — the impression of the poem, and why you decided not to give your opinion, and the Yusef Komunyakaa technique is fascinating — and tough! I also like your teasing friends! Poetry is paring — but it can be tough: you’ve put all this here. Thanks!

  2. You described well the deliberation over endings! I have caught myself doing just as the poet you described. Next time I find a poem with an uncertain ending I will first try the suggestion of Yusef Komunyakaa, then ask you (if I may).

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