Ask a Poet
Poetry on the Podium
Advice and insight from a professional poet.



Should writing poems be an Olympic event?
— K. Stevenson


I’m glad you asked that. I’ve been thinking of something similar for a long time. I don’t think that poetry should be an Olympic event per se, because writing poetry involves our mental resources more than our physical ones, but some competitive event, definitely, should be established for writers of poetry. I’ve been thinking about a competitive poetry reality series similar to what singers have in American Idol, what dancers have in So You Think You Can Dance, what fashion designers have in Project Runway, and what contortionists, comedians, musicians, and other miscellaneous artists have in America’s Got Talent. Even spoken word poets have slam competitions, but what competitive event do shy, awkward poets with speech impediments have? Nothing! Nothing, at least, that can infiltrate the mainstream as these other competitions do, and I think we should change that. Poet John Skoyles conducts a competition in his poetry workshops at Emerson College called Iron Poet. I forget the particulars, but Iron Poet generally works like this:  Each poet in the class has five minutes to write a poem under 10 lines using the same 14 words. The winner is chosen by secret ballot and gets a poetry book, a coffee cup, or both. I think that Skoyles is onto something there. I mean, just think about the potential for a television reality series that Iron Poet holds, spruced up with special challenges (“Write a somber poem with the word ‘butthead’ in it”), surprise visits from Tony Hoagland (“The winner of this challenge gets to write a two-line blurb on the back of my next book!”), and catty personal interviews from the contestants (“Johnny Q. is so cocky, but he has absolutely no talent whatsoever. How did he get on this show?”). Pay attention, TV producers. This sounds like a winner to me.

I guess I and the other poets will just have to wait for this idea to catch on, which shouldn’t be any more difficult than waiting for the responses from contests, journals, and publishers. I like this idea of poetry being like the Olympics, where the results are sudden and filled with suspense. They aren’t like that at all in a poet’s real life. There’s a lot of waiting involved in being a poet, and I like to think that something can be done to change that…or maybe not. Maybe there’s something else I still need to learn.       

How to Make a Game of Waiting                    

This is a capsized game
and there is no display of aces at the end.
Buy a rare and expensive plant that never blooms.
Rearrange your books by the color of the spines.
Bury all your keys that don’t unlock anything.
These are not rules but merely suggestions
of what has worked for others.
For instance, the man who painted landscapes
on his daughter’s sheet music.
Put a big rock on your desk.
Do not name the rock.
Take the numbers off the clock and mail them
to your creditors.
Stitch the hours onto a kite.
Every night, ask until you can hear what replies.

(Jennifer K. Sweeney)
1 March 2010



Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston. Send questions to poet@thesmartset.com.

   







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