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Examine your sentences. Use strong verbs wherever possible. Use the active, not the passive, voice. Try not to use the same words everyone else uses, unless you have a particular reason for making your piece flat. Flat is not what usually works, because flat is boring.

Examine your paragraphs. Do they lead from one to the other in a way that makes sense? Does each paragraph carry an interesting thought, a wonderful sentence, a joke, an astute observation, something to mull over? You do not have to have all of these in the same paragraph. George Garrett advised us to touch base with each of our senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell) on every single page. It is good advice.

If your piece contains chapters, ask yourself if you have started and ended them at the most effectual points. Until you reach the end of the piece, you want each chapter to tantalize the reader into the next chapter. This is called narrative drive. It was not always seen as essential, but today it is essential. Without narrative drive, a story withers on the vine. More… “Poetic Praise”

Kelly Cherry‘s new poetry book is Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer. Her book of flash fiction titled Temporium is forthcoming later this year.
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I used to write and read poems often when I was in college, but now I have a demanding job and a family with three kids. I’m just too busy these days, and I fear that poetry has become a thing of my past. How can a regular guy bring more poetry into his life without dedicating hours of scholarship? –James

 

PoetryDaily.com, VerseDaily.com, Poets.org, and probably lots of other sites include a poem each day on their webpage. You can sign up to have poems e-mailed directly to you, and if you find the time between this or that obligation, you could read them. You may not have time to read a poem every day, but two a week is certainly better than no poems at all. Or if your inbox is already too full, you could buy… More…

 

There’s been a lot of griping, of late, about the decade just passed. That seems appropriate for a decade that began in terrorism and war, and ended in economic turmoil (never having gotten the terrorism and war out of its system along the way). It was crap. TIME magazine, a reasonably polite rag most of the time, called it the “Decade from Hell.” Gallup polls over the last 10 years recorded all-time lows in the collective low. Those inclined to dabble in the marketing of stocks have collectively labeled the last decade, “the worst ever.” And so on.

Whenever people get to the business of condemning decades, I think of W.H. Auden. That’s because of his famous poem “September 1, 1939”, which opens with the following lines:

I sit in one of the dives On Fifty-second Street Uncertain… More…

 

Currently there is a lot of space debris — generated by programs like NASA — circling the globe. It’s becoming an increasing problem for satellites and new missions. How can we reduce this debris to ensure that future and current missions will be safe? — Linwood, Boston, Massachusettes

Your mission, Linwood, if you choose to accept it, is to write an apocalyptic poem about the space debris problem that is so powerful it begins a change. It has to be so good that it inundates the mainstream, warrants translation into all the world languages, and terrifies the globe. All international leaders need to be compelled to work together, with a team of scientists, and solve this problem, and it’s your job to make this problem a priority.

After your poem’s publication (your poem should be so good that… More…

 

I wanted to read a poem to my gathered family before our Christmas meal. Could you recommend several? What would your top five Christmas poems be? — Already-Frazzled-Preparer-of-a-Christmas-Feast

I guess it would be totally lame to cite my favorite Christmas poem (“A Visit From St. Nicholas”—“’Twas the night before Christmas”), but that’s a really good one, very entertaining if you will have little ones at your table. My other top poems are below:

Emily Dickinson writes a good one (of course, right?):

Before the ice is in the pools — Before the skaters go, Or any cheek at nightfall Is tarnished by the snow —

Before the fields have finished — Before the Christmas tree, Wonder upon wonder — Will arrive to me!

The poem goes on in two more quatrains, but it gets a little inaccessible, so… More…

 

It’s my birthday. Will you write me a poem? — Ken S., Portland, Oregon

It’s my birthday, too!  Let’s celebrate together with a heroic couplet:

This is for people whose name starts with K: you’re getting old — you better seize the day!

Yuck, that was awful. Here’s a better one by Richard Wilbur, addressed to someone with initials very close to yours

For K.R. on her Sixtieth Birthday

Blow out the candles of your cake. They will not leave you in the dark, Who round with grace this dusky arc Of the grand tour which souls must take.

You who have sounded William Blake, And the still pool, to Plato’s mark, Blow out the candles of your cake. They will not leave you in the dark.

Yet, for your friends’ benighted sake, Detain your upward-flying spark; Get… More…