Got to Get You into My Life

The Snark Zone: Letters From the Editors
Stephanie “Baker” Lenz


It’s very easy advice: “write every day.” For me, I declare, “I’m going to write tomorrow.” Then the cat’s sick. Then the kids use the fridge contents as artistic media. Then I realize someone’s out of clean underwear for the next day. All of those little “right now” tasks mean that writing time is set aside until evening when I’m too tired to do much beyond open an old story and read it, looking for occurrences of “was.”

When I took my only undergraduate poetry writing course, the instructor told us he was glad to know that most of us were fiction writers (or non-writers). He said that knowing how to write poetry is more essential to prose writing than learning how to write prose. At the time, I didn’t get it but it didn’t take long before I could see how it worked. Word economy, word choice, juxtaposition, metaphor all stood at the core of our writing. In learning how to write poetry, I learned how to write more effective prose.

In the years since taking the class, I haven’t written much poetry but I’ve written a heap of fiction using the techniques I took from that class. One bit of wisdom that the instructor imparted to us near the end of the term was this: If you never write another poem, that’s fine. But keep reading poetry.

To follow that advice, I kept my favorite poetry books (The Moon Is Always Female, Leaves of Grass) and bought collections by new-to-me poets (Mark Strand, Billy Collins). There were few things better on a rainy day than to sit down with a warm drink, some good music and a book of poetry. I liked the collections because I could flip through and read what I liked or I could read front to back, noticing how the poet arranged the collection to enhance each poem simply by what came before and after it.

These days, I don’t have the luxury of sitting down with a nice chai, putting a little Sting on the iPod and cracking open one of those anthologies. However, I have time to catch a poem or two or three just by glancing through my e-mail. It can be inspiring to your creativity if you catch the right poem when you’re in the right mood. It’s also very easy to read poetry every day. Here are a few ways to get poetry into your life:

Super-easy:

Tiny Words: Have a haiku delivered every day. Poetry so short you rarely have to open the e-mail to read the entire thing.

Easy:

The Writer’s Almanac is doubly wonderful because you can read it via your inbox or listen to the almanac on your public radio station or online. You can subscribe to the free podcast or put it in a feed reader and never miss an episode. The audio segments run about five minutes; you can also download the podcasts to your iPod or other mp3 player.

Pretty easy:

Poetry Daily has a feed you can put in your feed reader. When you’re catching up on I Can Has Cheezburger, you can search for “poetry daily” and find the feed.

About’s poetry section offers a newsletter. They have some poetry available to read on the site; much of it is older work in the public domain.

Requires a little work or time:

The League of Canadian Poets provides some links to online poetry by American, Canadian and “international” poets, audio poetry and visual poetry.

Look up poems by theme, author or title: The Academy of American Poets provides a good database of poetry for all occasions. They also have audio files, biographies and essays. This is a good site to bookmark either for reference or for when you have time to browse.

The Poetry Society of America provides extensive resources for writers. Also at their site, you can read the journal Crossroads, which includes issues from 1997-2004.

For modern British and Irish poetry, check out the British Library section of modern British and Irish poets. It includes a sound archive and a listing of sponsored events, information on focused collections and links to Brit-centric poetry sites.

For info on Aussie and Kiwi poets, try The Poetry Resource, Australian Bush Poetry, Verse & Music and Australian Poetry Resources Internet Library. Perry Middlemiss’s blog Matilda is another fun resource for all literature Australian.

For non-English language poetry, a great place to start is at the Poetry Translation Centre. You have the option of reading the poems in their original languages or in English. Use your favorite search engine to find other translated poetry sites or journals.

A selection of poetry-only online literary journals:

Many literary journals publish poetry as well as prose. I recommend starting with our list of literary journals, after you comb our archives for some excellent poetry.
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E-mail: baker[at]toasted-cheese.com

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