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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

and now I know it

I feel vaguely like I’m typing in a foreign language when I say:

I sold my first poem today.

. . . yeah. That’s a thing that really just happened. To Fantasy Magazine, no less, which is a market I have yet to crack with my fiction. Contract is signed and everything, so it’s official.

I . . . what? How did this happen? When did I start writing poetry?

April 2021, sorta. I could point to a variety of poems I wrote before then: things for school, things for role-playing games, things for stories that for one reason or another needed to include poems. Even a very small number of things I wrote just because I wanted to. (Three. That small number is three.) But in April 2021 I looked at the list of short story ideas I keep, and my brain said “what if poem instead” to one of them, and I wrote a sonnet. Which my brain, arbitrarily and in defiance of actual historical evidence, has deemed My First Poem. And then in October of that year it coughed up another one, which just happens to be the one I sold to Fantasy this afternoon. (Funny: my first novel sold was my second one written, too.) And then it kept coughing and more poems kept coming out. This is apparently a thing I do now? And now it’s a thing somebody’s gonna pay me for?

I guess it is. I, like . . . have to figure out where to put poetry on my website now. Because I’ve written over twenty poems in the last two years, and presumably somebody’s gonna pay me for some of those, too, if I go on sending them around like I have been. Because this is a thing I do now.

This feels even weirder than when I started writing short fiction. (I was a natural novelist first.) I’m . . . a poet? Which manages to sound vastly more pretentious to me than saying “I’m a writer” ever did? And yet there have been two occasions in the past year or so where I found myself reflexively typing the phrase “other poets” in conversations online, as in, “poets other than me,” so I guess my subconscious is slowly easing its way into the swimming pool of this particular identity shift. At some point the water will presumably stop feeling peculiar. But we’re not quite there yet.

A question for the poets: line breaks

I’m very hit or miss when it comes to liking poetry, and I most frequently miss with free verse, because part of what draws me to poetry is the rhythmic effect of meter. But I’ve taken to copying out poems I like in a small notebook, and a couple of the recent ones have been free verse — and in writing them down (which forces me to pay finer-grained attention to the arrangement of the words), I found myself reflecting on one of the things I find most puzzling about the style:

How do the poets decide where to break their lines?

In a poem with meter, the answer to that question is set for you, and the challenge is to figure out how much of your idea you’re going to put into a given line and how you’ll make it fit. But with that element gone, you can end your line anywhere you choose. Sometimes I can see why the choice was made in a certain way; for example, two lines might be structured so that they echo one another, and the positioning of the break draws your attention to the similarity. But other times, it seems to be completely arbitrary.

And yet I’m sure there’s an aesthetic principle, or more than one, guiding the decision. So my question for the poets among you is: what are those principles? If you were critiquing a poem, what would make you say “it would be better if you moved this word down to the next line/joined these two lines together/broke this one apart”? What are you looking at, or for, when you give someone feedback like that, or choose the placement of the breaks in your own work?

I feel like, if I understood this, I might enjoy free verse more. Because things that register on me as arbitrary are rarely impressive, so seeing through to the underlying reason might increase my appreciation.