A Beginner’s Guide to Poetry, 21st Century Edition

My college professors, as is expected, knew their stuff. They had areas of specialities, and in the English department, this meant people and time periods. I expanded my knowledge of poetry and poets by taking classes like “Forms of Poetry,” “African American Poetry,” and “Recent American Poetry.” I haven’t become an expert in poetry–that’s not what my English degree means. Instead, I know more about things I don’t know.

In hopes of bringing everyday people out of the darkness of not knowing poetry, I have compiled a list of 7 types of poetry everyone should know exist. These could come in handy.

1. Free Verse

This is a point of resistance for young children, who are confronted with the idea that poetry doesn’t have to rhyme. Free verse is about breaking structure: down with meter, down with rhyme scheme, and down with form. Free verse follows the internal rhythm of the poet.

I Hear America Singing” – of patriarchy, but with rhythm, Walt Whitman

Still I Rise” – a celebration of self and perseverance, the Maya Angelou way

Home Wrecker” – memory, love, and family from contemporary poet, Ocean Vuong

2. Form

Sometimes called fixed form, these type of poems follow a structure, contrary to free verse. The structure can be small or big: a poem written without one or two letters from the alphabet, the lipogram; a poem using 14 lines, rhyme scheme, and iambic pentameter, the sonnet; a poem that repeats lines or words in calculated places like the pantoum, villanelle, and sestina.

My Brother at 3 A.M.” – a pantoum about addiction by Natalie Diaz

Mad Girl’s Love Song” – a villanelle about nothing other than mad love by Sylvia Plath

When I consider how my light is spent” – or Sonnet 19 on life and faith, John Milton

3. Experimental

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This category could easily be broken into subcategories to include the kind of art redefining poetry: composing a new poem using math formulas to replace words in an old poem, cutting out words from random places to create a collaged masterpiece, erasing words in a book to leave behind poetic lines. Experimental poetry is all about experimenting with words in new ways.

The Lady” – a quick little something about death, Guillaume Apollinaire

Sonnet III” – a collaged sonnet, Ted Berrigan

a leaf falls” – an initially illegible poem, e.e. cummings

4. Prose

Prose is text without lines. Novels. Short stories. News articles. Poetry uses what’s commonly known as a line or a verse. Prose poetry is what happens when poetic elements enter the prose genre. Of course, this blurs the lines of prose and poetry, and that’s just what prose poetry aims to do. Test the borders.

The Objectified Mermaid” – a mermaid tells us about the modeling industry, Matthea Harvey

Girl” – a short story about growing up girl, Jamaica Kincaid

The Prose Poem” – a poem about the landscape of the prose poem, Campbell McGrath

5. Visual

Through space on the page, photograph or cut outs, or rearranged words, visual poetry reminds us that poetry is an art.

haiku #62” – a collage mimicking the haiku form, Scott Helmes

Silence” – repetition with a message, Eugen Gomringer

Women” – a protesting and moving poem, May Swenson

6. Spoken word

Spoken word feels relatively new, but it’s only been made more accessible through video sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. In the past, spoken word existed in the confines and ephemeral moment of the poetry cafe. A blending of performance, musicality, and poetry, spoken word is memorized by the poet(s) and performed instead of recited. This could mean the use of accompanying music, a short film, or the presence of a finger-snapping and encouraging audience.

When Love Arrives” – a duo about patience and love, by not-a-couple Sarah Kay & Phil Kaye

Love Drought” – poet Warsan Shire’s verse sprinkled over Beyoncé’s Lemonade (2016) album

The Last Poem I’ll Ever Write” – not the last, bless their soul, a touching piece, Andrea Gibson

7. Micro-poetry

Poetry meets the internet age, from 140-character tweets to Instagram’s short verse. Micro-poetry is just that, poetry that hits the stomach or lungs with a quick punch. Instagram in particular has rejuvenized the poetry world and resurfaced the typewriter. This kind of poetry is practiced by anyone from skilled poets like Rudy Francisco or Rupi Kaur to your average Jane.

Hey, Poet: World Poetry Day Awareness

March 21st marks the 16th anniversary of World Poetry Day. First observed in 2000, World Poetry Day is an initiative taken by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to celebrate poetry as an art form and a cultural phenomena.

If you’re thinking poetry isn’t your thing or it’s a waste of time, I have a few words for you: you are a poem and poetry pays.

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Julius Meinl Coffee‘s 2016 Pay With a Poem Poster

Julius Meinl, a global coffee and tea provider based in Europe, started celebrating World Poetry Day last year by using poems as currency, and this year, Pay With a Poem will be observed in over 1,000 locations across 30 countries. Currently, two U.S. cities located in Florida and Illinois are on Pay With a Poem’s location finder, though if you happen to be around Italy, Austria, Romania, or Germany, expect several coffee shops to hand you free coffee in exchange for your handwritten poem.

Dear America,

let’s start loving us some poetry and getting ourselves some free coffee. Doesn’t this Pay With a Poem promotional video make the smell of coffee ciruclate your nose and the sound of poetry kiss your ears?

Robert Frost says it best when he says “A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness.” Poetry can dig a nest into our hearts, but it’s often treated as a second class literary form in school curriculums. When poetry is taught in high school, it’s the type of poetry that makes people cringe. Those epically long poems, those tritely rhymed and metered sonnets, and those exceptionally esoteric word choices have some people fed up with poetry when we should actually be engaging with poems.

"Journal Entry"

Journal Entry” Joel Montes de Oca CC BY-SA 2.0

Everyone has a different taste, but there is a poem waiting for all of us. Whether you need therapy, a laugh, a dose of politics, or a mental workout, poems have you covered.

Here are 14 poems that will have you rethink the meaning and medium of poetry:

1. [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

2. Story XI. The Lion who Hunted with the Wolf and the Fox by Jelal al-Din Rumi, translated from the Persian

A lion took a wolf and a fox with him on a hunting excursion,
and succeeded in catching a wild ox, an ibex, and a hare. He

3. For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough: by Charles Bukowski

I pick up the skirt,
I pick up the sparkling beads

4. Scars/To the New Boyfriend by Rudy Francisco

5. Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real? by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck
in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick,

6. The Ballad Of The Landlord by Langston Hughes

Landlord, landlord,
My roof has sprung a leak.

7. Accents by Denice Frohman

8. wishes for sons by Lucille Clifton

i wish them cramps.
i wish them a strange town

9. Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation by Natalie Diaz

Angels don’t come to the reservation.
Bats, maybe, or owls, boxy mottled things.

10. A Letter to My Dog, Exploring the Human Condition by Andrea Gibson

11. This Room and Everything in It by Li-Young Lee

Lie still now
while I prepare for my future,

12. I Stink by Roque Dalton, translated from the Spanish

I smell like the colour of mourning on those days
when flowers wilt due to their price

13. The Beloved by Paul Celan, translated from the German

She is standing on my eyelids
And her hair is wound in mine,

14. Buffet Etiquette by Hieu Minh Nguyen

Photo by Tyler Menezes CC BY-SA 2.0

Photo by Tyler Menezes CC BY-SA 2.0

Start small this World Poetry Day by sharing a poem or go big and campaign for a poet’s freedom of speech. Poetry can be dangerous: poets around the world are threatened and silenced for writing poems deemed too political or blasphemous.

Take over social media or write letters on behalf of poets like Ashraf Fayadh, who was almost sentenced to death in 2015 for sharing his poetry in Saudi Arabia. Find other dissident poets on Pen.org and help save a poet.

Need more time to find the rhythm of the poetry that runs through your blood, the lovely pump in your heart, the gentle wind chimes in your laughter, and the captivating hold of your stare?

April marks the 20th celebration of National Poetry Month in the U.S. Find your inner word genius and get to celebrating.

 

Youth

Slow
learning
optimists
daring to try
out.

Cinquain n. 2

Girly,
resist the mold
shock and resuscitate
the steel she society shunned:
flee script.

Cinquain n. 1

Breathing

outside the glass,

hands outstretched, hands reaching:

to our daughters rising stronger

women.

permeable

You scan a catalogue and find options. I wake up the neighbors knocking on doors.

You know all the inside scoops. I dive into trial and error.

You call your thoughts masterpieces. I label my work in-progress.

You sound and look flawless. I stumble across words and wear my closet.

You got the world backing you up. I got the world pulling me backward.

You talk like you know about life. I talk of nothing and say it all.

When our dreams deflate, I’ll be first to float.

 

self-effaced

It’s not about you. It’s about me, always.
This is me: hopelessly lost, hopelessly self-consumed
in irrational ideas about how
if I knew you, then I would know myself.

It’s been hard pinning down my existence,
so I try to find a you to define,
someone to know forwards and backwards,
looking for the possibility I’ve been effaced
into the stare of glossy eyes that can never see me,
into the grip of hands that can never hold me,
into the warmth of a body that can never love me.

It’s not you. It’s always me.
every luscious and unpalatable
shade of my being.

1,000 miles: step 63|musings

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It’s the third week into National Poetry Month, and I don’t have much to show other than a couple of musings.

I don’t write down half of what I spend nights pondering over.

I don’t write love poems. I don’t write angry poems. I don’t write pride poems… honestly imperfect human poems.

I was recently asked to proofread an essay–nothing atypical there. Yet, I loved every bit regardless of grammar because of the content. I was reminded of the different worlds people come from. The U.S. has given me my second, remembered part of childhood. I’ve learned to love what is American, including exaggerated pride. Though I’m an immigrant, it’s a label I forget: I have never missed my country because there isn’t much for me to miss. You can’t miss what you don’t remember.

As I read the essay, something rung true with me: American stress. My mom is always telling me how everything is so rushed at her job. I see that in many of the people I know. They’re all in such a rush, so much to do and so little time for things that matter…. things like a good night’s rest and time well-spent with family and friends.

That stress is gnawing at me, too. Yes, volcanoes will erupt if our bills aren’t paid. Yes, the stars will collide and cease to exist if I pick part-time school over full-time. Yes, every decision I’ve ever made must come undone before anything works out.

Yes, that was sarcasm, dear reader. American stress = drama queens.

The world is a dangerous place to live —

The world is a dangerous place to live — not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.
–Albert Einstein

The world is a dangerous place to live for sure. There is in an awe-striking art about impeccable housekeeping, known to Mother Earth. She has taught her knowledge in bold, forceful ways. Shakes, eruptions, and waterfalls. She is a creature of focused repetition. She will not listen to lullabies. She sings her own songs, inducing flowers to grow on concrete. Her command succinctly whispered, flower petals will waltz in the breeze. She continues her task over millennia despite those crowded, hasty growing human spaces upon her.

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What would you tell God, she asks

What would you tell God, she asks
What would you tell God if you were at Heaven’s doorsteps?
for all the good it does to be called articulate
words don’t shape themselves in my mouth.

Because it’s not what would I tell God.
It’s what do I ask
and where do I begin.

Like–
Why don’t we choose love over fear?

There are classes of people
running in the direction of Holy
who beat up their wives behind doors
who have created poor and homeless
who dig tombs instead of hospitals
who run the world without mercy.

There are classes of people
who believe in freedom
inherited through other people’s suffering
who close their eyes on
cigarette buds on naked skin.

There is soot plastered on my ancestors.
I was born and burn on this earth
too see a people, my people
learn to love over generations
of getting it wrong despite God’s presence.