Poetics #1: Multiple Poetries


The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics defines poetics (conceptions of) as “a systematic theory or doctrine of poetry. It defines poetry and its various branches and subdivisions, forms and technical resources, and discusses the principles that govern it and that distinguish it from other creative activities.” I think that a big part of what I am doing in this blog is figuring out my own poetics. What is poetry, anyway, and why do I write it?

I thought of this recently when I was looking at literary journal calls for submissions. I have mentioned before how these calls can be a little annoying. But sometimes the descriptions of what the editors are looking for can be insightful and interesting. Here is the start of one I like: “Crazyhorse aims to publish work that reflects the multiple poetries of the twenty-first century.” Poetries, plural. Yes.

When we look at the history of poetry in different cultures, or even just in our own, we see that poetry has had different purposes at different times and places, and for different groups of people. I think that these purposes are a kind of spectrum, or circle dance: poems sing, teach, remind, entertain, instruct, show, express or funnel emotion, and/or exalt. We should also remember that a single poem can do any number of these things. The longer the poem, the more likely this is true: just take Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, for example.

What do your poems do?

Preminger, Alex, ed. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Enlarged ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1974.

Answering the Call


Well, after a long time away from the Grueling Slog that is submitting work for publication (I had a coaching business and then went and got a second masters degree; I wasn’t just sitting around eating bonbons), I am finally back in the game, and my word, how the game has changed. Ten years ago I was still printing poems out and sticking them in envelopes with a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope for return. How 19th century that feels now. In comparison, the new online submission vehicle, Submittable, feels like a flying car.

One thing that has stayed the same, though, is how I feel about Calls for Submission that are vague or cheeky. “Our only criterion is excellence” is a load of horse hockey; once you get past the beginner stages of creative writing, excellence becomes more and more subjective. What I like better is when they tell you who they’ve published. Also, general calls are less interesting to me than theme-based calls. If somebody says the theme is “storms” then I have a good idea which of my poems to submit, whether the stormy weather in them is real or metaphorical.MUSASHI_MIYAMOTO_by_BARCYD

A recent one that I have been playing with is “elements.” This one is cool because you could take it to mean parts of a whole, the Table of Elements, or any of a variety of cultures’ primary elements, from the four of Western Euro-culture (earth, air, water, fire) to the five of China or Japan or…. For example, the 16th century Japanese sword master Miyamoto Musashi (pictured above) after whom my cat is named (pictured below, photo by Jack Siberine), split The Book of Five Rings into five parts named after earth, air, water, fire, and the void. I wrote a really cool poem about the void that I am sending out (yes, it mentions lost socks). But I can also send out one about the painter Hiroshige, who was a fireman’s son in Edo (now Tokyo) in a time and place when/where a small fire could wipe out whole portions of a city where most buildings were made of wood. I could write about alchemists trying to turn lead to gold, or about Superman’s trouble with kryptonite. The themes not only make it easier to pick out poetry I have already written, but it also inspires me to write more.

Mu with String

And we all want to find ways to write more.