Why Write Poetry?

Leaving Gees BendToday's guest poetry poster is Irene Latham,  an award-winning author of two volumes of poetry and two novels. She also serves as poetry editor for Birmingham Arts Journal and contributes poems to Scholastic's Storyworks and Scope magazines.
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Birmingham Arts Journal
Here is Irene's poetry post:
Those who don't write poetry often wonder why anyone would spend time on a market so unpopular and little read. It's not for the fame-hounds or money-hungry, that's for sure. Even when you are lucky enough to have a book of poems.
Consider these quotes:
“There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.” – Robert Graves
“Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.” – Don Marquis
Yet, to me, poetry is absolutely essential. Here's a few reasons why:
1. It's short.
You can write an entire poem in a day – or at least several drafts of a poem. This makes it perfect for the time-challenged, young mothers, over-extended. Unlike a novel which takes hours upon hours, you can crank out a first draft of a poem in minutes. You can hand your lines to a reader and experience immediate gratification.
2. Word play is fun.
When every syllable matters, things get intense. But that's where the joy is. That's where assonance and meter and rhyme come in. Writing poetry is about playing with language. You can even make words up, if you want to. And oh, the satisfaction when you find Just The Right Word — is there a better feeling in the world?
3. It makes you a life-long student of the world.
When you write poetry, you approach life with curiosity and wonder. Leaves don't ever merely fall to the ground. Some dive, some twist, some jet, some dawdle. Poets are keen observers. We are constantly on the lookout for analogies, patterns and oddities in nature and in relationships. We see things, hear things others don't. Because those are the things we want to put into our poems.
4. It gives you permission to explore all emotional terrain in a safe way.
Poetry is compressed emotion. The whole point is to create an emotional experience for yourself and for readers. If you have fears about death, you can put them in a poem. Anger, sadness, joy, despair… poetry is the place for the most sustaining and destructive emotions. Your job to be passionate. This passion is the vehicle that will take you toward your own emotional truths.
5. Different is good.
Unlike many other areas of life, when you write poetry you are expected to be a little odd. You might even be celebrated for this oddness. You can embrace all that is eccentric about yourself — and even cultivate new eccentricities. You can do this on the page or in real life, and no one blinks. Because you're a Poet. And poetry is not bound by a strict set of rules. (The only rule is there are no rules.) It's quite liberating, actually. And allows you to invest more fully in the best poem of all: You, Your Life.

Recent Comments

  • violet
    April 30, 2012 - 11:46 am · Reply

    Every reason on your list is a good one!
    Irene, I also just saw your April 24th poem on Your Daily Poem. (I’m behind on my emails:) Lovely poem! So nice to see a familiar name.

    • Irene Latham
      May 1, 2012 - 8:49 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Violet! I was so honored to be included on Your Daily Poem. And hey, I’m behind on EVERYTHING. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by, and happy writing!

  • Natalie
    April 30, 2012 - 9:29 pm · Reply

    I love all ALL of your reasons for writing poetry, Irene–and I would only add one. It’s really the reason I write poetry, and it’s actually very basic.
    Why Write Poetry Reason #6
    Poetry brings joy! 🙂

    • Irene Latham
      May 1, 2012 - 8:51 pm · Reply

      Tabatha, I love that Don Marquis quote. So true! And THAT’S OKAY. What a moment, casting that feather to the Grand Canyon. You know? Thanks so much for reading.

  • Darlene Moore Berg
    May 1, 2012 - 9:06 am · Reply

    And sometimes when someone actually reads a poem you write and is blessed by it, chuckles or sees life for just a minute in a different light, It’s worth all the scribbling in the night…

  • Matt Forrest Esenwine
    May 1, 2012 - 3:02 pm · Reply

    I, too, love Don Marquis’ quote – as well as reason #5! I tell people I really enjoy the compact nature of poetry, and the fact that you only have a few lines (usually) to tell a story; paint a picture; elicit an emotional response. While my adult-oriented poetry is usually free verse (modern erudite academics don’t seem to appreciate rhyming poetry these days), my children’s poetry rhymes and is metered because I enjoy the structural bounds of rhyming poetry: proper meter, rhyme scheme, alliteration, assonance & consonance, stressed syllables, and all the devices a poet has at his/her disposal. As Robert Frost once said, “I would as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down.”
    Great post…thanks for sharing!

  • Irene Latham
    May 1, 2012 - 8:54 pm · Reply

    Katie, thank you so much for including me in your series! What a wonderful month April was. Both inspiring and exhausting. Wishing you wonderful words in May! xo

  • Lauren Robinson
    April 7, 2014 - 1:12 pm · Reply

    Some of these points are very useful to me. I am writing a collection of poems as part of my A Level coursework. The next part is to write about why I chose to write poetry and not a story. My poems are based around some of Phillip Larken’s work. They are to do with people watching. I wonder if you would be able to give me a few more reason why poetry writing would be more suitable than a novel

    • Irene Latham
      April 16, 2014 - 7:20 am · Reply

      Lauren, it’s a great question! I write novels and poetry and love both forms. Someone once described poetry to me as “compressed emotion.” Sometimes when I am deciding which way to go with a project, I will ask myself if that is what is called for. But most of the time the projects seem to guide themselves. If it wants to be poetry, it will be! I see line breaks, I feel the need for white space, I am lost in metaphor. Listen to your intuition — there really needs to be no more reason than that. Good luck, and sorry for the late reply!

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