Friday, April 09, 2010

What Makes a Good Poem?

I'm giving a talk in a couple weeks about "What Constitutes a Good Poem" and I'd be interested to hear your opinions on what you think makes a good poem.

So, what makes a good poem for you?

I'll post more of my own thoughts and opinions later after I hear from you, but I will say, I love poems that surprise me with language and images, and not in that ugly, shocking way, but in the poet seeing the world in a new way, a freshness I was missing until I read the poem.

Also, if you'd like to leave me the title and author of your favorite poem in the comments of this post, that would be wonderful.

Here's one of my very favorite poems by Linda Pastan--

A New Poet

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don't see

its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way

its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled

red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day—the odor of truth
and of lying.

And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only

in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

Linda Pastan
Heroes In Disguise
W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.


  1. "Good poems" are vivid and honest. I've always thought that if you restrain yourself in a poem, you're not going to end up with a good piece.

  2. "The Smile of the Bathers" (Weldon Kees, The Last Man). Two features solidify its choice: I don't need to reread it to remember it, and I recite the close in response to all sorts of different relevancies. I discovered it in high school in 1980, and it still moves me.
    "Mourning Picture" (Jana Harris, Oh How Can I Keep on Singing). I read it once, and can't bear to read it again. I lay my hand on the text as I would a treasured, sleeping child.
    Paul David

  3. Maya, I agree. That is an excellent point!

    Paul, thanks for those two examples. I appreciate it and I love your response to Jana's poem. I feel the same way about perfect moments.

  4. what blows me away about a "good" poem is when it speaks in a way i'd never be able to. meaning the word choice is fresh and different even if the poet is usually the most simple of words.


Always love to hear from you...and the anonymous option is open for those feeling shy.

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