POETRY CRAFT ESSAYS

SHOWING AND TELLING: Seven Ways to Help Your Writing Breathe, A Craft Essay by Billy Dean

SHOWING AND TELLING: Seven Ways to Help Your Writing Breathe, A Craft Essay by Billy Dean
“Show-don't-tell” is fine advice—unless you apply it absolutely, as if you should always show and never tell. Here are seven ways your prose and poetry can breathe with both showing and telling ...
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WORKING FOR SURPRISE: On Running, Prescriptive Teaching, and the Language of First Drafts A Poetry Craft Essay by Devin Kelly

WORKING FOR SURPRISE: On Running, Prescriptive Teaching, and the Language of First Drafts A Poetry Craft Essay by Devin Kelly
There are two things I do nearly every day without fail: write and run. I like to talk and think about them together because, to me, they are twin feats of both discipline and imagination. Growing up a competitive runner, never very good compared to the other people I competed against, I learned to value the sport as a way to keep me both grounded and honest. Your body has a way of letting you ...
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POETRY AS PRACTICE How Paying Attention Helps Us Improve Our Writing in the Age of Distraction A Craft Essay by Scott Edward Anderson

POETRY AS PRACTICE How Paying Attention Helps Us Improve Our Writing in the Age of Distraction A Craft Essay by Scott Edward Anderson
POETRY AS PRACTICE How Paying Attention Helps Us Improve Our Writing in the Age of Distraction A Craft Essay by Scott Edward Anderson In this lyrical essay on the writing life, Scott Edward Anderson shows how poetry can be more than a formal approach to writing, more than an activity of technique, but a way to approach the world, which is good for both the poet and the poem.—Grant Clauser, Editor Walking in Wissahickon Park ...
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WRITING THE SUPERHERO POEM, a craft essay by Lynn Levin

WRITING THE SUPERHERO POEM, a craft essay by Lynn Levin
The superhero is a staple of pop culture, but poets can use elements of superhero identity to craft poems and explore their own mythology. Lynn Levin offers a writing prompt designed to allow poets to reach beyond the real in search of other truths ...
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DON’T BE A DRONE: Manipulating the Reader Through Pitch and Pace, A Poetry Craft Essay by Grant Clauser

DON'T BE A DRONE: Manipulating the Reader Through Pitch and Pace, A Poetry Craft Essay by Grant Clauser
Pacing in poetry can be used as a focusing technique. Both fast and slow pace equally have the ability to draw in a reader’s focus in slightly different, but complementary, ways. A sudden shift into high gear can raise our excitement or anxiety, while hitting the slow motion button compels us to look with greater scrutiny and concentration. Either way, pace is a kind of volume adjustment–by turning the volume of the poem up or ...
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ACROSS THE DIVIDE AND BACK: How Writing Poetry Is Changing My Nonfiction, a craft essay by Vivian Wagner

ACROSS THE DIVIDE AND BACK: How Writing Poetry Is Changing My Nonfiction, a craft essay by Vivian Wagner
Writing poetry has also reminded me once again to pay attention to the rhythm of language. Rhythm is central in poetry, but I often overlook it when writing nonfiction. When we read anything, there’s a hidden music to it. We hear the words, as well as the relationship between the words, the stressed and unstressed syllables, the complex intertwining of word and phrase and sentence. Listening to rhythm is understood and expected in poetry, but ...
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SOMEONE IS WRITING THE REAL WEST VIRGINIA, a craft essay by Mary Ann Bragg

SOMEONE IS WRITING THE REAL WEST VIRGINIA, a craft essay by Mary Ann Bragg
I live in Provincetown but I’m from West Virginia. I’ve been thinking of the simultaneous provocation and balm that literature, like art, can have on moments of social and economic crisis. In Provincetown, year-round residents are disappearing as more and more houses are bought as second homes, thoroughly and exquisitely renovated, and then occupied in the summer only. In my hometown, Madison, West Virginia, streets have emptied out as an economy built on coal mining ...
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THE EMPATHY MACHINE, Part Two by Kelly McQuain text version

THE EMPATHY MACHINE, Part Two by Kelly McQuain text version
THE EMPATHY MACHINE, Part Two Text Version by Kelly McQuain 1. Tweet No Evil In an effort to get my head around what I consider the purpose of art-making, I attended three writing conferences during summer 2015. The first was at U.C. Berkeley and was supposed to commemorate the influential 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference fifty years prior, inspired by a student Free Speech Movement earlier that year. But poet Vanessa Place’s inclusion on the bill ...
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THE MAN ON THE COUCH AND THE MAN WHO SPEAKS POEMS by J.G. McClure

THE MAN ON THE COUCH AND THE MAN WHO SPEAKS POEMS by J.G. McClure
THE MAN ON THE COUCH AND THE MAN WHO SPEAKS POEMS by J.G. McClure I pay a therapist an hourly rate to listen to my feelings. I pay literary journals reading fees to read about my feelings. My therapist says she’s struck by two parallel versions of me: the Man on the Couch who seems pathologically unable to feel, and the Man Who Speaks the Poems who feels all too deeply. She wonders which ...
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WHY I WRITE Or, It’s The End of the World as We Know It and I Feel (Sorta) Fine by J.G. McClure

WHY I WRITE Or, It’s The End of the World as We Know It and I Feel (Sorta) Fine by J.G. McClure
WHY I WRITE Or, It’s The End of the World as We Know It and I Feel (Sorta) Fine by J.G. McClure I remember as a kid going to a science museum somewhere in Missouri. They had an exhibit—basically a rickety computer with MS Paint hooked up to a radio transmitter. The idea was this: you’d draw a picture, the transmitter would transmit it upward, and voila, your masterpiece would travel out among the stars, ...
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IN PRAISE OF MISTRANSLATIONS by J.G. McClure

IN PRAISE OF MISTRANSLATIONS by J.G. McClure
IN PRAISE OF MISTRANSLATIONS On Conversational Translation by J.G. McClure We all know Freud talked about the ego and the id. Except he didn’t. What he actually talked about was Das Ich und Das Er, which is to say, “The I and the It.” The words “mean” the same thing, except they don’t. When we translate Freud, we use the Latin pronouns for “I” and “It,” whereas Freud used the regular, everyday pronouns of his ...
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LEAVING APPALACHIA: Overlap in Poetic Landscapes by Julia Paganelli

LEAVING APPALACHIA: Overlap in Poetic Landscapes by Julia Paganelli
LEAVING APPALACHIA: Overlap in Poetic Landscapes by Julia Paganelli In August, I stuffed my summer dresses and cooking implements into a Toyota and trekked eighteen hours from Appalachia to the Ozarks. I’ve been tallying the difference between the mountain ranges. Appalachia is older than the Ozarks—cliffs softer. More oil painting than chiseled sculpture. I’ve been reading up on architecture. In the book Why We Build: Power and Desire in Architecture, Rowan Moore writes, “Where things ...
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THE POET’S “I”: DISTANCE THROUGH FIRST-PERSON by Katie Rensch

THE POET’S “I”: DISTANCE THROUGH FIRST-PERSON by Katie Rensch
THE POET’S “I”: DISTANCE THROUGH FIRST-PERSON by Katie Rensch In a recent conversation with a group of mixed-genre writers, it came to my attention that we were all writing in the first-person, well, more or less. In fiction, we call the first-person the “main character”, in poetry we say the “speaker” of the poem, and in nonfiction it’s the writer’s name because the “I” must, by definition, be the person writing. We might just call ...
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APPROACHING BORDERS by Nathaniel Popkin

APPROACHING BORDERS by Nathaniel Popkin
APPROACHING BORDERS by Nathaniel Popkin Two men, one aged 61, the other 65, each born in late January, each a father in grief. The first is the Israeli writer David Grossman, whose son Uri was killed in the brief 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon. The other is the American poet Edward Hirsch, whose son Gabriel died of a drug overdose in 2011. On a bookshelf these men and their books may stand together, G then ...
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CROSSING THE EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE: ARCHER, BOB’S BURGERS, AND CONTEMPORARY POETRY by J.G. McClure

CROSSING THE EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE: ARCHER, BOB’S BURGERS, AND CONTEMPORARY POETRY by J.G. McClure
CROSSING THE EMOTIONAL LANDSCAPE: ARCHER, BOB’S BURGERS, AND CONTEMPORARY POETRY by J.G. McClure 1. The emotional landscape of the reader determines the work that can reach her. Imagine the interior world as a sea: the boat-poem can move ahead, but the truck-poem can’t. Conversely, if the interior world is a field… 2. Over the holidays, I’ve been binge-watching Netflix, especially two animated comedies starring H. Jon Benjamin, Archer and Bob’s Burgers. The same deadpan voice ...
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RETHINKING THE SHITTY FIRST DRAFT by George Dila

RETHINKING THE SHITTY FIRST DRAFT by George Dila
RETHINKING THE SHITTY FIRST DRAFT by George Dila I do not write shitty first drafts. In fact, that phrase, inspired by Ernest Hemingway, popularized by Anne Lamott, offends me slightly—both the idea of thinking of my own work this way, and also that word itself, shitty, to my ear an ugly and repellent adjective. What does the phrase mean, though? To quote the wonderful Miss Lamott, from her book-that-everyone-has-read, Bird by Bird, “The first draft ...
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THAT DEXTEROUS MARGIN by Michael McFee

THAT DEXTEROUS MARGIN by Michael McFee
THAT DEXTEROUS MARGIN by Michael McFee 1. A poem is a visual as well as a verbal object. Its language is primary, obviously, the sounds the words make, and the effects those sounds have on the reader, phoneme by phoneme and as a whole aural object. But the shape the poem makes on the page is crucial as well. 2. I spent my first two years of college in design school at a technological research ...
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THE ART OF DESPAIR by Allison Seay

THE ART OF DESPAIR by Allison Seay
The Art of Despair by Allison Seay I. Out of the Depths Perhaps it is a weakness to rely only on my own poetic experiences or sensibilities as a way to talk about craft or as a way to teach. In writing this, I thought of all kinds of things I could write about, things I have discovered about form and experiment and figuring out what it means to write from a Real Place. To ...
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TO STAY OR TO GO INTO EXILE: Milosz and Szymborska by Niels Hav

TO STAY OR TO GO INTO EXILE: Milosz and Szymborska by Niels Hav
TO STAY OR TO GO INTO EXILE: Milosz and Szymborska by Niels Hav translated by Heather Spears This year Patrick Modiano received the Nobel Prize for Literature and, as often before, it was a complete surprise when the secretary of the Swedish Academy opened the door and released the name to the press. Every year this event is a celebration, and the joyous news spreads round the world with the speed of light ...
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IN A SPRAY OF SPARKS: Emotion, Sincerity, and the “Skittery Poem of Our Moment” by J.G. McClure

IN A SPRAY OF SPARKS: Emotion, Sincerity, and the “Skittery Poem of Our Moment” by J.G. McClure
IN A SPRAY OF SPARKS: Emotion, Sincerity, and the “Skittery Poem of Our Moment” by J.G. McClure Pick up any fashionable poetry journal and you’re likely to see an example of what Tony Hoagland has called the “Skittery Poem of Our Moment.” Such a poem does not simply lack coherence; it actively resists it.... The characteristics are familiar: leaping from thought to thought, sharply-written-but-largely-nonsensical phrases, quirky humor, an assertive-yet-evasive voice, and so on. We move ...
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SAY IT AGAIN, BUT BETTER: RESISTANCE AND REVISION by Devi S. Laskar

SAY IT AGAIN, BUT BETTER: RESISTANCE AND REVISION by Devi S. Laskar
SAY IT AGAIN, BUT BETTER: Resistance and Revision by Devi S. Laskar Writers get writers’ block. Happens to everyone at one point or another. It happens to some writers every solstice, every month, every fortnight. I struggle every day. Thanks to a recommendation from an old friend, I’ve been reading Steven Pressfield’s really great book, The War of Art, which talks about resistance and how we as writers get sucked in to the war of ...
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THE MISEDUCATION OF THE POET: High School and the Fear of Poetry by J.G. McClure

THE MISEDUCATION OF THE POET: High School and the Fear of Poetry by J.G. McClure
THE MISEDUCATION OF THE POET: High School and the Fear of Poetry by J.G. McClure When I was an undergraduate taking one of my first poetry workshops, my poet-professor joked that “high school is where poetry goes to die.” I chuckled, thinking he was simply making fun of the melodramatic effusions of teenage writers. I’ve since come to realize that what he was getting at is a much more systemic problem: that the way we’re ...
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