“Beautiful, beautiful book, ” she said.
NEA fellow Tania Runyan was referring to Love, Etc., which she’d kindly agreed to read for possible endorsement. I had held out the possibility that she might not like the collection, and though that might not be easy on me, I needed it to be clear I understand: not all poems appeal.
She agreed to take about two weeks with the collection, at which point she might provide an endorsement. But the night after I sent it to her, the deed was done. She sneaked some time and read it through, providing an endorsement she hoped would communicate this: “Your poems imitate speech. And I love what you do with spaces.” I thought perhaps it had. Here is the endorsement:
Though subtitled poems of love, laughter, longing & loss, this collection is all longing to me—reaching repeatedly for the clarity that surely lies within life’s entanglements. These poems flirt and seduce. Wait patiently for mulberries and ghosts at the window. Make nests. Button and unbutton. Press the edge of the self. They imitate breath and the spaces between, the desires that get caught in the throat when only a picture, a word, a letter, or silence will do.
Somewhere along the way, Tania and I got to discussing how it is that one ends up writing poems that can do the kind of things the poems in Love, Etc. do. I told her it came mostly of reading others’ poems. Every day. Often multiple poems a day. It was that practice, extended over several years’ time, that had taken my poetry to the next level. And I believe there is no way around it: if you want to be a good poet, you must read excellent poetry. It puzzles (and dismays) me when aspiring poets reveal (as many have pointedly revealed to me on Facebook): I don’t have time to read poetry; I only read my own.
If you are serious about taking your poetry to the next level, I suggest a practice of reading a poem a day. You can do that very easily and cost-effectively with Every Day Poems (we pick the poems and make sure they are worthy of your time), or you can dip into some of these collections (all of which were my companions while writing the poems that eventually found a home in Love, Etc.)…
Either way, I sincerely hope you’ll consider reading a poem a day. It’s the best secret I can tell you about how to write a poem (or a hundred!), better than you do today.