April 25, 2023

Poetic Forms

We occasionally use poetry forms in the calls for submission prompts on the website. Here are a few books we have used that you might want to use to broaden your use of forms.






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To see our past prompts and more than 300 issues,
visit our website at poetsonline.org

April 19, 2023

Beatnik Bob Kaufman

I saw that yesterday was the birthday of the man who inspired the word "beatnik" - poet Bob Kaufman. I learned of him via the archive of writersalmanac.org  but if you have never heard of him, it's not surprising. His wife encouraged Kaufman to write down his many poems, but he wished to stay hidden from history. He said, "I want to be anonymous. My ambition is to be completely forgotten."

Robert Garnell Kaufman was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925. Kaufman's mother was a Roman Catholic woman from Martinique who loved to play the piano and buy books at auctions. His father was a German Jew. Details of his life are hazy because he didn't keep a diary or leave behind any letters, and while he completed three volumes of poetry, he preferred to recite his poems in coffee houses rather than write them down.

As a teenager, he joined the Merchant Marine. In his 20 years as a sailor, he circled the globe nine times and survived four shipwrecks. On his first ship, he became friends with the first mate, who lent him books and encouraged him to read. It was at sea when he first read about the Beat poets, many of whom also had maritime ambitions. 

Gary Snyder wanted to experience the culture in port cities around the world, and he worked as a seaman during the summer of 1948 and again in the mid-1950s. 

When Jack Kerouac, as a freshman at Columbia, failed chemistry and lost his scholarship, he joined the Merchant Marine to make money to re-enroll. 

Allen Ginsberg was suspended from Columbia for fighting with his dormitory housekeeper, and he followed Kerouac into the Merchant Marine. 

When he was 22, Lawrence Ferlinghetti fell in love with the sea when he lived on the Maine coast for a summer and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enrolled in Midshipmen's School and was deployed at different lighthouses and naval watch posts throughout World War II.

Back on land, Kaufma studied briefly at the New School in New York City, where he met William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg. The three eventually moved to San Francisco and joined Gregory Corso, Kerouac, and Ferlinghetti to form the heart of the Beat movement.

Improvisational jazz influenced Kaufman's street performances and earned him the nickname "The Original Bebop Man," but it also earned him the attention of local police. In 1959, he was tossed into jail 39 times for disorderly conduct. 

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen said he had Kaufman's spontaneous oral poetry in mind when he created the word "beatnik."

Later, Kaufman cofounded Beatitude magazine, which helped launch the careers of many other poets, but he continued to live a mostly itinerant life, filled with drugs, a stint at Bellevue Hospital, where he underwent electroshock treatments, and continued police harassment. 

By the mid 1960s, he had published two volumes of poetry — Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (1965) and Golden Sardine (1967) — and in the early '80s, his friends gathered old recordings and notes and had them published as The Ancient Rain: Poems 1958 - 1978 (1981).

When President Kennedy was shot in 1963, Kaufman took a vow of silence and didn't speak again until he walked into a coffee shop in 1975 and recited his poem, "All Those Ships that Never Sailed." 


Follow this blog for all things poetry.
To see our past prompts and more than 300 issues,
visit our website at poetsonline.org

April 12, 2023

Late Night Clint Smith

You don't see many poets on late-night talk shows. You don't see many writers of fiction or non-fiction either. But poets are the rarest writers for that particular medium. So, I am always pleased to see and hear a poet on a show that gives the poet and poetry a wider audience.

I saw Clint Smith on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and I will admit that I did not know Clint or his writing at all. It is particularly good to discover a new poet this way. I found a variety of his poems online and picked up his latest poetry collection for this week's reading.

Clint Smith is the author of the narrative nonfiction book, How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, which was a #1 New York Times bestseller, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction, the Hillman Prize for Book Journalism, the Stowe Prize and selected by the New York Times as one of the 10 best books of 2021. He is also the author of the poetry collection Counting Descent, which won the 2017 Literary Award for Best Poetry Book from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

In this video, he talks about what poetry can mean to people and how a teacher's encouraging words to a student can stay with them for a long time. He reads the first poems in his new collection, "All at Once." The poem alternates good and bad things happening all at once around the world - "The river that gives us water to drink is the same one that might wash us away." His latest collection of poems is Above Ground.

His website is clintsmithiii.com

Follow this blog for all things poetry.
To see our past prompts and more than 300 issues,
visit our website at poetsonline.org

April 4, 2023

Prompt: Triversen

William Carlos Williams invented a stanza and poem form he called the triversen. I have always liked William Carlos Williams who wrote both short poems ("The Red Wheelbarrow" and "This Is Just To Say" are almost too well known, anthologized, and taught) and epic poems such as Paterson. (Plus he is a Jersey boy like myself.) I like the triversen which allows you to write on any subject but within a structure.

A verset means “in one breath” and triversen means “three” so this is a triple verse stanza. It is a form but it is not formal.

Here are Williams' 3 simple rules.

  1. Each stanza equals one complete sentence, and each sentence/stanza breaks into 3 lines. S, each line is a separate phrase in the sentence.
  2. Williams wanted each line to have a variable foot of 2-4 beats per line.
  3. In its pure form, he wanted the poem to be 6 stanzas (18 lines).

Each line can vary in length with two to four stressed syllables. No more than four because he hated iambic pentameter lines! He did not want to write in verse, but he also did not want his poetry to look or read like prose. He often used this stanza in poems that were not triversen but also in poems that follow the pure 18-line triversen form.

You can see this stanza used in Williams' "The Artist" which also uses some unusual spacing, indents, and no punctuation - though that is not required of the form. Our model poem for this prompt is his poem "On Gay Wallpaper."

The green-blue ground
is ruled with silver lines
to say the sun is shining.

And on this moral sea
of grass or dreams lie flowers
or baskets of desires.

Heaven knows what they are
between cerulean shapes
laid regularly round.

Mat roses and tridentate
leaves of gold
threes, threes and threes.

Three roses and three stems
the basket floating
standing in the horns of blue.

Repeating to the ceiling
to the windows
where the day.

Blows in
the scalloped curtains to
the sound of rain. 

Some of you might start with a single complete statement or observation that you break into three lines. But those breaks should be strategic - perhaps by phrases or where you want the reader to take a breath, or pause to ponder. His occasional wider spacing also emphasizes the thoughts or pauses.

Some people have suggested that Williams' triversen his "triversen" is the equivalent of the Japanese haiku or the three-line katauta in that each line is a connected idea for the statement in the first line.

Williams' poem longer poem, "January Morning," is an example of him using the stanza form mixed with other stanza forms. That poem begins:

I have discovered that most of
the beauties of travel are due to
the strange hours we keep to see them

and Wallace Stevens' "Not Ideas About the Thing But the Thing Itself" uses the stanza and the six stanza structure, though it does not follow all three of Williams' rules. The poem begins:

At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.

He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.

Our April call for submissions is for pure triversen poems that follow all three of Williams' rules.   Deadline: April 30, 2023

Follow this blog for all things poetry, and to see all of our past prompts and more than 300 issues, visit our website at poetsonline.org

April 3, 2023

The Poetry Midday News Break

More than a decade ago we set up something online called "The Poetry Midday News Break." It used a service called paper.li that advertised, "You pick the topics and we'll deliver great curated articles to your inbox, every day. With a click, you can share them on your personal webpage, social and newsletter. People can subscribe to you."

The .li domain suggested "paperly" but I liked that .li domain names are registered to little old microstate Liechtenstein.

Our online newspaper was built to pull articles from social networks, news sites, blogs, and almost any place that mentioned a series of keywords (poem, poetry, poets, literature...) It was automated.

But we were informed this month that sadly Paper.li will sunset (a rather poetic tech term) on April 20, 2023. It ran for 13 years. After April 20, papers will no longer be accessible, and all data will be permanently deleted. 

Even digital newspapers are going away. 

We never heavily advertised the paper and although I checked it most days to see if there was news to pass along on this blog or the Poets Online Twitter account, or on our Facebook page and poetry discussion page, I don't think most people accessed it. 

There would be posts there such as:

But it will be no more. Check it out before it vanishes. maybe something will inspire you.

Follow this blog for all things poetry, and to see all of our past prompts and more than 300 issues, visit our website at poetsonline.org

April 1, 2023

National Poetry Month Has Arrived

Get a poster for free

Not that poets need a month to write and read poetry, but the rest of the world always needs a reminder. Launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996, National Poetry Month celebrates poetry’s role in our culture. 

Poetry matters! And the month of spring (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) seems especially appropriate for reading and writing poetry.

It is said to be the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students,  teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, families, and—of course—poets, marking poetry’s important place in our lives. 

For information and ways to celebrate this month, see poets.org/national-poetry-month

The 2023 poster was designed by Marc Brown, creator of the popular Arthur books and PBS television series. The artwork incorporates an excerpted line from the poem “Carrying” by U.S. Poet Laureate Ada Limón. Brown was selected by Scholastic—the global children’s publishing, education, and media company—to create the artwork for this year’s poster as part of a new National Poetry Month initiative between the publisher and the Academy of American Poets.

Follow this blog for all things poetry , and to see all of our past prompts and more than 300 issues, visit our website at poetsonline.org