Articles about poetry


Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is a great song. I often find it running through my head. I love how the lyrics are evocative without being literal, and the way the verses all have the same feel but are pretty much independent. I find myself half-making up new verses all the time. So did Leonard: apparently he wrote 80 verses for the song, whittling them down to the four in the final version.

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By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept — Elizabeth Smart

By Grand Central StationThis is an amazing prose poem spanning the author’s love affair with an older married man. The language is raw and rich and really takes you to another place, and usually not a happy one — when she isn’t miserable, she’s obsessively ecstatic. But wow, what a ride:

Under the redwood tree my grave was laid, and I beguiled my true love to lie down. The stream of our kiss put a waterway around the world, where love like a refugee sailed in the last ship. My hair made a shroud, and kept the coyotes at bay while we wrote our cyphers with anatomy. The winds boomed triumph, our spines seemed overburdened, and our bones groaned like old trees, but a smile like a cobweb was fastened across the mouth of the cave of fate.

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An uncomfortable villanelle

I picked up a great book in the library the other day. A Kick in the Head – An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms is a children’s book describing and illustrating about 30 poetic forms. It includes obvious ones like the limerick, haiku, sonnet and couplet, but there were several that I hadn’t encountered before. I especially appreciate the forms with very rigid constraints, such as the villanelle, the triolet and the very tricky pantoum.

A few days later, I read an article by Michael Hofmann in the London Review of Books about the “professional controversialist and Austropathic ranter” Thomas Bernhard. Hofmann quoted a passage and said it “loops like a villanelle”. (The passage, a powerful yet demented diatribe, makes me want to read the book.) Encountering villanelles twice within a few days inspired me to write one. Very restrictive forms are easier to write in a way, since there are fewer choices to make.

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