Wednesday, May 29, 2024
About Poetry

What Makes a Poem Work?

This is from a long ago interview with Drew Myron.

You make good friends in the strangest places. Rick and I met at a high school reunion in which our spouses were reliving their adolescence. Desperate for conversation that traveled beyond the 1970s, Rick and I found common ground in poetry. Since then, we’ve enjoyed an ongoing conversation about writing, publishing and poems. 

DM: We often talk about the music of poetry. Please, tell me, what makes a poem work?

RC: For me, for most I guess, there are a lot of things that make the poem work. Music — whether it’s rhythm, a more traditional idea of beat or meter, or maybe some larger sense of sound, as in composing a song, a symphony maybe — it’s hard for me to define “music” in a poem. It’s like that saying I know it when I hear it. But music isn’t all that’s important; I think a poem needs to make a statement. It needs to say something about the world we live in. It has to tell us, maybe not a truth, but some sort of revelation. When I read a poem I want to say “yes,” that’s how it is, and it’s even better if the poem reveals something to me that I did not know, or that I had not seen before in the way it’s revealed to me. If a poem is going to work, then lots of things, maybe everything has to work. And, for me, not many poems really “work.”