What’s in a Poem?

I recently had a poem published in the Fond issue of Meat for Tea: The Valley Review. I was ecstatic when I received the news. This is the fourth magazine I’ve been published in, and my third published poem overall. This is more that I could have ever imagined, especially since five years ago, I hated poetry, couldn’t understand it. I was always a fiction writer at heart, and I avoided poems like the plague, mainly because I could never think of elegant words that rhymed, and iambic pentameter confused the hell out of me.

My contributor’s copy finally arrived in the mail a few days ago, and I turned right to page 19 to read my poem, “How to Cure the Flu,” a recipe for homemade soup. I proudly showed it to my mom, and after reading, she politely asked, “What makes this a poem?”

I was taken aback to say the least, and to be quite honest, I felt a little insulted. I had flashbacks to a rejection letter from a different magazine about another one of my poems, in which the editor in friendlier terms said, “I don’t understand how this is a poem.”

My response is, what constitutes a poem anyway? Seriously? No one writes like Shakespeare anymore. Except for this guy named Sebastian who was a classmate in my poetry writing workshop in college. I was so in love with and so jealous of his poems. I hope he’s published somewhere. I hope he grows up to be the freaking poet laureate!

I would really like to know how people define a poem today. Because when I open up a literary magazine, those poems don’t rhyme. They don’t have a specific meter, at least not one I can easily identify. They read like prose broken up into verses. Hello! Isn’t that what free verse is?!

Yes, I’m a fiction writer first. Yes, my poetry sometimes sounds like prose, but so does everyone else’s. Am I being too sensitive in saying that?

For me, poems are like short stories. They are glimpses into a world using a small amount of words. The lines don’t necessarily have to be in complete sentences, or even be grammatically correct, for that matter. As long as that snapshot the poet is trying to present to the readers comes into view. I think the most important part of a poem is imagery. If it doesn’t have strong images, ones that evoke a certain type of emotion or feeling, then it’s not doing its job as a poem.

How would I describe “How to Cure the Flu”? It’s a witty poem, but also very nostalgic. It takes you back to your roots, to those country mothers and grandmothers who had a home remedy for everything. To all those people who took a spoonful of castor oil for every ailment as a child, this poem is for you.

I’m grateful to the editors at Meat for Tea for seeing that (or maybe they just thought the poem was witty), and publishing it. I hope that all who read it will see that too and not assume it’s just a soup recipe trying to be a poem.

By the way, if you’re interested in reading my poem and others, the PDF version of the magazine is just $5. The print is only $10. Purchase your copy! Support the arts! In case you’re wondering, I’ve decided to tie this post into the Write or Die Wednesday prompt by saying this: a cup of hot tea, Meat for Tea, and a toasted blueberry muffin will make an excellent breakfast to start your morning. Also, a cup of Mama’s homemade soup isn’t a bad idea for an unconventional breakfast either! 😉

breakfast

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9 thoughts on “What’s in a Poem?

  1. I totally agree – there’s no rules for poetry. I hate when people think poetry is like roses are red, violets are blue. Poetry can evoke so many emotions, paint beautiful pictures… I love it. And congrats on being published, you’re a rock star poet! 🙂

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    1. I don’t think I’ve written a roses are red, violets are blue poem since fifth grade! The way poetry is written has definitely transformed over the years. And thanks! I feel like a rock star right now! 😀

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  2. I’m so encouraged in knowing that you were afraid of poetry just five years ago, and now LOOK AT YOU! I’m crummy at poetry. It always sounds so Dr. Seuss-ish (only Dr. Seuss should sound like Dr. Seuss, which is why I’m not a big fan of Ludacris. Haha). Anyway, there’s hope for me yet!

    You are such a poet, and it was that particular magazine’s loss at not publishing your poem.

    I used to be an English teacher, and I can attest that poetry is the thorn in most of our teaching sides. However, one of my fellow English teachers was (is) one of the best poets I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. If you’re interested in taking a gander, here is his website: https://sites.google.com/site/andrewgilchristhaas23/

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    1. Haha! Ludacris! His raps do remind me of a Dr. Seuss book, now that I think about it. I think a great teacher is the best influence on a student who’s struggling to find their passion. I’d probably still be afraid of poetry had it not been for two of my poetry professors in college. They pretty much helped me realize how anything could be turned into a poem. So thanks for the link. I’ll definitely check him out!

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  3. Fantastic. Good for you. And yes I agree that with poetry it’s the imagery and the layers of nuance all within a handful of lines that makes it different from fiction. Perhaps you could say it’s condensed fiction. Some fiction novels are so heavy with imagery and lyricism that they’re described as poetic.

    Liked by 1 person

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