The Dark Art of Poesy

Most folks I’ve met have a definite opinion of poetry. They either love it or hate it. As a general rule, I’ve always put myself in the latter category (excluding songs, which many of us poetry-haters like, ironically). I’ve always looked on it a bunch of overly long words used in short, choppy sentences loaded with emotional baggage. And yet, poetry has certain appeal to both writers and readers alike. This is probably primarily because of its brevity, but also because in some circles it is considered the highest form of written art.

In truth, my attitude toward poetry has softened a little over the years, though it is still a distant second to prose. That said, there are some reasons to consider writing poetry, at least occasionally. At the very least, the mere challenge of attempting to express a broad range of feelings or events in so few words can be fun to take on. There’s also the fact that it stretches your vocabulary to its limits at times–particularly if you’re doing any kind of rhyming poetry. And, of course, there are times when you want to express a feeling or idea in a direct way that lengthy narratives just can’t manage.

Perhaps one of the false attractions to poetry is the idea that because it is short (Beowulf-style epics excepted), it is somehow easy. This may be true for some, but for others it can be quite an exercise, especially to those of us more used to prose writing. Like many skills, I suppose it is one that can be improved with practice, though I haven’t done enough myself to find it easier.

In addition to the idea of “easy-to-do,” there’s the equally false notion of “easy money.” It’s only natural that people who think writing poetry easy would believe it possible to churn out a bunch of these relatively short works and start raking in the cash. While it may be true that a lot of literary journals and the like put out frequent calls for poetry submissions, the ones that offer payment are far fewer in number. And like with any paying market, these ones are going to be the most hotly contested: You’d better be a darned good wordsmith to entice a magazine to actually buy from you what it can presumably get in a hundred other places. This is where it can help to have a reputation built up in lesser or nonpaying markets first. Even if you do get paid, don’t expect it to be a massive amount: One cent per word is a generous offer in many circles.

So, one might ask, what is the point in writing poesy at all? To which I would reply, the same reason you write anything: because you’re inspired. If there’s some experience you’ve had that’s hard to describe in mere paragraphs, try verses instead. That’s generally how I end up writing poems, and some of them don’t come out half bad. Others will come out pretty rough, of course, but that’s nothing a little editing can’t polish up later (and yes, I’ll admit, editing a poem is far easier than editing an entire book). And there is always the chance, however slim, that your artistic words may catch fire. There’s a serious shortage of decent songwriters these days, so if you’re musically as well as lyrically inclined, you may as well give it a go.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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