Everybody’s a Poet!

Advice and insight from a professional poet.



I’m in a long distance relationship with a swell guy and he penned me a poem for my birthday. It was very sweet but also quite bad. Can poetry help me tell him I appreciate the thought but not the actual poem?
— Shannon


I hope so. But because chat or email can propagate misunderstanding, let me also underscore the importance of using emoticons, smileys or hearts in your case. I’m not sure why that works, especially when you give him a poem — far more nuanced and thoughtful than a colon-hyphen-closed parenthesis mark — but I read somewhere that you should do that in online communications with personal relationships. Anyway, it seemed fitting to look through Ted Kooser’s book, Valentines, where I found a poem that could help you tell him this (though it won’t, unfortunately, do all the work for you).

“If You Feel Sorry”

If you feel sorry for yourself
this Valentine’s Day, think of
the dozens of little paper poppies
left in the box when the last
of the candy is gone, how they
must feel, dried out and brown
in their sad old heart-shaped box,
without so much as a single finger
to scrabble around in their
crinkled petals, not even
one pimpled nose to root and snort
through their delicate pot pourri.
So before you make too much
of being neglected, I want you
to think how they feel.

At some point, you’ll have to tell what exactly he should take away from this poem, i.e., Honey-pie, your poem was not good — well, not when assessed as poetry — but the gesture was so nice!  You’re really such a good guy, so resourceful and versatile, and honestly, there are all kinds of things in this world to get upset about, like mentally unstable gunmen or autocratic rulers—so ultimately, who cares that I said your poem is bad, right? I love you. 🙂 • 31 January 2011

Kristen Hoggatt lives, works, and writes in Boston, where she received her MFA from Emerson College. She volunteers at 826 Boston.


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