Hello, our revered adviser Miss Snark:

What would you recommend to a writer in need of a good solid poetry fix?

I am totally digging your recent choices of poetry for the blog, and it strikes me that verse may be the perfect reading matter for an upcoming period of intense novel

Like a lot of writers, I avoid reading fiction when I'm writing, and usually end up using fluffy nonfiction for relax-o-reads. But now, inspired by your choices, I'm thinking some excellent poetry sounds much more inviting.

Problem being: I haven't read much poetry for years, so I'm clueless about what to choose, aside from Shakespeare's sonnets (my eternal favorites). Given the world-renowned
excellence of your taste, a recommendation or two from you would be worth gold and silver, and many buckets of the globe's finest gin.

Please accept my humble thanks in advance (and how about a virtual skritch behind the ear for KY?)

Don Juan by Lord Byron

Emily Dickinson-everything she ever wrote.


otto said...

Dickenson is an excellent choice. I was never into poetry, but once I starting reading and understanding it, found that it helped my fiction writing tremendously for a)its imagery and more importantly, b) its condensation of words and meaning.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark,

This is my favorite by Emily:

My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun -
In Corners - till a Day
The Owner passed - identified -
And carried Me away -
And now We roam in Sovereign Woods -
And now We hunt the Doe -
And every time I speak for Him -
The Mountains straight reply -

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow -
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through -

And when at Night - Our good Day done -
I guard My Master's Head -
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow - to have shared -

To foe of His - I'm deadly foe -
None stir the second time -
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye -
Or an emphatic Thumb -

Though I than He - may longer live
He longer must - than I -
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--

Emma said...

Good old Em Dick.

I'm a fan of Plath, which no doubt stems from high school literature classes.

Get some Blake into you, too.

LJCohen said...

Jane Kenyon
Billy Collins

Or take a look at the poetry 180 project.

Billy Collins put these together as part of his gig as poet laureate, originally meant for high school kids (one poem a day for the school year), it highlights a wonderful selection of poets.

Writerious said...

Coleridge. If you can make your way, slowly, through the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla Khan, you'll either be hooked for life, or cured of your poetry obsession forever, depending on your personality. Results do vary.

ello said...

Hmmm, this is interesting, I did not know that most writers avoid reading fiction while writing. I've been trying to fit in reading any books that might be even a little similar to mine while continuing to write my own novel. Is this a mistake? Perhaps this might explain the unfortunate streak of "stuckness" that I am experiencing. I hesitate to call it writer's block because I'm not blocked, I've got the thoughts but it's more like I'm paralyzed.

Miss. Snark, do you have any standard advice for your writers when they get stuck in the middle of writing? I'm 100 pages into my novel and almost a month into a bad patch of writer's paralysis. I have an outline, I have my beginning and my conclusion the characters dance around and taunt me in my thoughts and dreams, they are so alive. But my creative writing muse has slipped into a coma and I'm doing a lot of staring at my laptop these days. I've tried different writing tips like rewriting sections of great literature, taking breaks, writing nonsense, etc. Haven't hit on anything that helps yet and I feel like my time is slipping away. Any advice that anyone can give me would be greatly appreciated.

SAND STORM said...

"Summer Haiku" - Silence and deeper silence when even the crickets hesitate - Leonard Cohen ...anything by Cohen is worth the time.

December Quinn said...

I love Gerard Butler. A few to get you started:

Gerard Butler's poems

My fave is "Inversnaid", but "Spring and Fall" is the most Famous.

Margaret Taylor said...

May I recommend Poe and e.e. cummings, my two favorites?

December Quinn said...

Oh, and she may not be the first name that pops to mind when discussing great poetry, but I love Dorothy Parker's poems.

Go I must along my way
though my heart be ragged
Twisting bitter through the days
Festering and jagged

Smile I must at every twinge
Kiss to time its throbbing
He that tears a heart to fringe
Hates the noise of sobbing.

Elle, did you try writing the ending? When I'm blocked I tend to just drink a lot, but apparently the ending thing works for people too.

Amber said...

Wislawa Szymborska

Czeslaw Milosz

Stephen said...

In the immortal words of Wendy Cope:

Emily Dickinson
Liked to use dashes
Instead of full stops.

Nowadays, faced with such
Critics and editors
Send for the cops.

(The form is a double-dactyl, a kind of limerick for grown-ups. First line a nonsense phrase, second line a person's name, sixth line a single word, metre double-dactyllic as above).

ann said...

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Especially her "controversial" ones about children's and women's issues. (Um ... drawing a blank on the titles)

Anonymous said...

Phillip Dacey's Deathbed Playboy, especially "Ice Cream Return," about a soul's day off from being dead and returning to the popsicle factory where he worked one day in his teens.

Former United StatesPoet Laureate Mark Strand's The Continuous Life, especially "Always," which I offer here, at MS's discretion:

Always so late in the day
In their rumpled clothes, sitting
Around a table lit by a single bulb
The great forgetters were hard at work.
They tilted their heads to one side, closing their eyes.
Then a house disappeared, and a man in his yard
With all his flowers in a row.
The great forgetters wrinkled their brows.
Then Florida went and San Francisco
Where the tugs and barges leave
Small gleaming scars across the Bay.
One of the great forgetters struck a match.
Gone were the harps of beaded lights
That vault the rivers of New York.
Another filled his glass
And that was it for crowds at evening
Under sulphur yellow streetlamps coming on.
And afterwards Bulgaria was gone, and then Japan.
"Where will it stop?" one of them said.
"Such difficult work, pursuing the fate
Of everything known," said another.
"Down to the last stone," said a third,
"And only the cold zero of perfection
Left for the imagination." And gone
Were North and South America,
And gone as well the moon.
One of the great forgetters coughed,
Another yawned, another gazed at the window:
No grass, no trees...
The blaze of promise everywhere.


Anonymous said...

For the poetically challenged (and those who forgot what a double dactyl is), check out A KICK IN THE HEAD, An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms, poems selected by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka. A kids' picture book, but great for anybody who loves poetry and wants a quick primer.

Eons ago, I read a novel-length poem by Elizabeth Barret Browning (forgotten the title) and I second the recommendation of her poetry.

Also children's authors like Nikki Grimes and Walter Dean Myers are worth checking out.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I guess Miss Snark didn't like the form of my first post. I'm remaking my recomendation.

If you want fun poems that don't require a lot of thought, find a copy of Sung Under the Silver Umbrella: Poems for Young Children.

This is an anthology originally published in the 1930s. There are later editions. Ask your librarian or visit one of the book search sites.

December Quinn said...

Oooh, and don't forget Edna St. Vincent Millay!

The sun which warmed our stopping backs
And withered the weed uprooted;
We shall not feel it again.

We shall die in darkness
And be buried in the rain.

(Most of her poems are a little more cheerful than that one.)

Oooh, and for love poems, you can't beat Jonh Donne.

tt_rage said...

To ello:

How detailed are the characters in your mind? Do you know what their drives/ambitions/states of mind are? With me, the blocks came about because I didn't know enough about the characters to get a good idea of what they'd do in certain situations. Bear in mind that it's the characters that drive the plot, not the other way around.

Some other stuff to consider:

Try to plan out the story in a little more detail, even if it's just a couple of sentences for each chapter.

Once you know vaguely where you're going, the most important thing is to just write. Even if you think what you're writing is crap, just aim for the end. Some throwaway sentence you scribble down might turn out to be the glimmer of a brilliant idea.

Once you are writing, don't stop to constantly re-read and correct, because you'll find yourself stuck on the same three paragraphs for weeks on end. Flash past the bits that give you trouble by inserting a comment like "ALAN PROVES HE KNOWS DAVE IS HIDING THE KNIFE FOR ELLEN, SOMEHOW" and just keep going. You can come back and fill in the blanks later.

If you're having problems developing the frameworrk of the story, you might also want to try to work backwards from the conclusion. Start off with the bad guy dead or incarcerated or the couple living happily ever after and keep going backwards one step at a time. Sub-plots and character quirks will occur to you with each step backwards, and you are less likely to get that situation where a character has to do something really stupid or do something completely against his personality to get the plot moving.

If you're looking for a good, inspirational self-help book to get yourself back on the road, I can recommend the "How to Write A Damn Good..." series by James N. Frey (note: not "A Million Little Pieces" James Frey - this is a different one). "How To Write A Damn Good Mystery" helped me immensely.

Hope some of this helps.

Dhewco said...

My favorite poem has, for the longest time been a tribute to Yeats by Auden:

You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

That's the second part of it..and my favorite. The poem is kind of long and I didn't want to fill up too much space.

Christa M. Miller said...

ITA about Leonard Cohen. I don't normally read poetry, but his have a lot of texture. That's the reason I love Tom Waits' lyrics, too, BTW.

Beth said...

to ello--

Perhaps you have overthought and overplanned your story, and your sub-conscious is rebelling at being put into a box. I have to keep myself entertained and surprised when I write, which means I do very little advance planning. It could be that you're bored with the process and need to shake it up a little by deviating from the plan and writing something unexpected.

Poetry recommendations--

in addition to the ones mentioned, try John Donne, particularly his secular poems, some of which are quite famous (think "every man is an island." Also, Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" took its title from a Donne poem); and Andrew Marvel, who inspired the title for Peter S. Beagle's melancholy ghost story A Fine and Private Place.

Jude Hardin said...

dhewco: One of my faves too! Yes, you should definitely check out W.H. Auden for one of the strongest poetic voices of the 20th century.

Anonymous said...

Read the Musa translation of Dante's Inferno. It's beautiful.

Katie said...


"The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain," is written by a neurologist who suddenly found herself addicted to writing. There are brilliant sections in the book about the way the brain works when one has writer's block (and when one is motivated to write) that completely fly in the face of traditional suggestions (i.e. exercises, taking a walk, etc.).

Although, tt_rage, I think you have great writing ideas. :) But writer's block, at least according to Alice Flaherty, who wrote the book, is an actual brain state (not unlike depression) that is not necessarily solved by doing character sketches or writing outlines. If you're actually depressed, you don't have the motivation to think happy thoughts or shower--it's when you're coming out of that brain state that you're able to do those things.If you're able to write character sketches, then you don't actually have writer's block (at least, not true writer's block).

I suggest running to the bookstore and flipping to the chapters on motivation and writer's block--they really helped me!!

Anonymous said...

Dickenson and E. A. Poe -The best there ever was for my money.

Jim Oglethorpe said...

Ello--hang in there, baby. I wrote a play in 1997 and had a critique/reading that completely brought me back to the drawing board. I was so "paralyzed" trying to get my my characters to move the plot forward. I learned that indeed "the characters drive the plot." I also needed some inspiration and that came in time. It's like I just wasn't ready for that particular project at that time. But I kept working on it. SInce I am so prone to writer's block, I have to have more than one project going so that I have another place to turn. P.S. I finally finished my play this year--10 years later! And the weird thing is that it was easy. In the meantime, I completed many other projects. Whatever you do--keep writing. Write anything! Write about writer's block. You can do it!

ello said...

Hey thanks everyone for your wonderful advice. I am sorry to all that were commenting strictly on poetry since my writer's block comment seemed out of place here. I was just really struck by the person commenting that writers who write never read fiction while they are writing and I just ended up posting my comment here since I thought that might be my problem, but I don't think so. I appreciate everyone's indulgence for putting up with it.

To december, tt, beth, katie and jim, your comments were all very helpful in that the most inspired thing for me was your encouragement. I don't know what it is going to take to unparalyze me - it's kind of like a cure for hiccups, I guess, different things work for different people. I will try everyone's suggestions and recommendations until something breaks. I just pray that something does soon because it does get very demoralizing to find that the precious time you schedule in for writing is spent staring at your screen for over an hour and typing nonsense phrases that jumpstart nothing. You know, honestly I don't think I was depressed before I got blocked but now I'm seriously getting bummed out. Sigh.

Jim Oglethorpe said...


P.S. I find a stiff drink and a Salem Ultra Light 100 helps lift the fog, too.

"Mommy's secret little friends!"

Lydia said...

If you like Shakespeare, try Donne and Marvell.

I happen to be a bit of an Auden freak, myself. :-) And T.S. Eliot.

Interestingly enough, I wrote a crappy sonnet last night (modified Skaespearean--abab bcbc fgfg ee) for a book I'm finishing up writing. The character was supposed to have produced it in 15 minutes as part of a game, so it's ok that it sucks.

Anonymous said...

For a funny recipe for writing "amazing crappy poetry" (aimed at the high school audience primarily, but useful for everyone!) check out Murder's post in the off-topic forum of NaNoWriMo. Hilarious--and the posts after the post, following its format, are treasures. (I'd post the URL, but since I respond anonymously the comment would be deleted, so you'll just have to wend your way over to NaNoWriMo on your own!)

Anonymous said...

How about the poetry of Stephen Leake??