Advice to a New Poet

I get asked for advice on poetry a lot. If you’re a new poet starting out, reading one of these interactions might be useful. So I’ve posted it below. This is with the writer Sarah Jones @writer_sejones and myself. I hope you find it useful.

@writer_sejones: Hey Boinkaz, thanks for the RT. I revised that poem. I feel the revised version conveys more meaning.

@boinkaz: Let’s hear it.

Invite black widow
To a cup of tea
Time to hash things out
Wriggled around the scalp
And spindled webs in dreams
Tis time to ebb you out.
Would love your thoughts.

@boinkaz: It’s good. Black widow as a metaphor for some ill or evil is good but keep in mind this can be used a lot. So the trick is to create a new use or way of saying it. It’s good to have the black widow in the dream, and use the word ebb—sort of like a tide, better than saying ease you out. Spindled is interesting, especially as a to spindle a thread is to wind it. It also plays on spin a web:

@writer_sejones: I see what you mean about the overused metaphor. Thank you for the feedback. I agree with you regarding the word ebb.

@boinkaz: Now the basic structure of using the story of little Miss Muffet, instead of curds & whey, using tea not to sure about that. But that’s me. I often use myth, legend etc. as a jumping off point, so I think you are good on it. Another way to approach this kind of poem is to get the fear or memory in your head and describe it, but without naming it.

@writer_sejones: I didn’t think of the whole Miss Muffet thing. Okay, cool. So I have fear of spiders only in my dreams, so I should focus on that fear then and refrain from naming it right out?

@boinkaz: so if the spider is a person that’s easy. If it’s a phobia that is trickier and it’s where metaphor comes into play. Does any of this make sense?

@writer_sejones: Sure, so dig a little deeper into whom the spider might be portraying, yes? And then create the more abstract reference?

@boinkaz; Look at this poem. What am I saying in it?

A rainbow in the night
Forever tail of drakling kite
100 million suns
dissolving from my sight.

@writer_sejones: hmm…my first thought is bombings. No, a metor shower.

@boinkaz: This is the beauty of poetry. My intention does not mean as much as your interpretation. In fact this poem is about the Milky Way as it’s kind of this long strip of star in the sky.

@writer_sejones: Got it! It means spider in my poems, but it could be more abstract, more powerful to the reader, keeping the reader in mind.

@boinkaz: In fact, you’re better off using concrete imagery as opposed to abstract imagery. You’ll get more interesting results. When I was referring to the black widow I meant that spiders get used a lot and there is no reason to limit yourself to this as a visual image for something frightening. The reason concrete imagery is better than abstract imagery is this: Everybody has fears. Everybody has been dumped. Everybody fears death and everyone wants love. These are universal emotions. Find new riffs on raw emotion is tough, but creating new imagery based on concrete ideas is much more straightforward.

Ok, so lets take the basic idea. There is a fear implied in the poem and you want to face it. Is fear a knife? Is it a fork getting stuck in your brain? Maybe since you’re going around the Pacific Northwest it’s a chanterelle mushroom. It can be anything, see? Now the common element in those examples is the mind or brain. So you could have a knife & fork dining on a mind for example—a very visual image & not too gruesome if written in the right way.

@writer_sejones: Thank you so much for taking the time to help me understand the art of poetry better. I write prose and am a creative writing major. I haven’t had any “proper” training in poetry, but am gravitating towards it lately.

@boinkaz; Poetry doesn’t always have to have some transcendental meaning. Sometimes you’ll write poems with a meaning or resolution in mind & it just doesn’t work. No worries. Not everything requires a moral or a punch line.

I hope it is a help. I did like your poem, so don’t be devastated, please?

@writer_sejones: I am not devastated at all, but grateful. In creative writing good critiques are sometimes hard to come by. I love it when I get critiques straight up. Sometimes after I’ve written a poem, I read it and I do get that mother goose sensation and I feel like, woah, wait a second that wasn’t what I was going for i.e. the revision of today.

@boinkaz; A couple good books to read are Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” and Dorothea Brande’s “On Becoming a Writer”, written back in the 1930s. You can also find plenty of great resources on Twitter and the Internet these days.

@writer_sejones; Take care. I think the best one can do for a young poet is to criticize in detail a particular poem of his.” – T.S. Eliot’s The Art of Poetry No. 1 From the Paris Review today:

@boinkaz: Thank you for coming to me for advice.

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