Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How Do You Become a Poet?

On my list of "Things I Have a Thing For," pretty close to the top, below "Happy Hour" but above "Dystopian Fiction," you will find "Poems About Poetry." My most faithful of readers will remember that my first Poetry Mix Tape was about these kinds of poems, and I've been trying to collect more ever since.

I've been reading poems about poetry with my students this week. We started with Eve Merriam's brilliant "How to Eat a Poem" and then moved on to one I recently discovered that I thought was a nice follow-up, "Eating Poetry" by Mark Strand. I think my students enjoyed the former, but they weren't really sure if the latter made sense to them. (Although it did give me a chance to stress to them that you don't have to understand a poem completely to really like it.)

Then today we read another Merriam poem that is pretty new to me. It's called "In Reply to the Question 'How Do You Become a Poet?'" It goes like this...

    take the leaf of a tree
    trace its exact shape
    the outside edges
    and inner lines
    memorize the way it is fastened to the twig
    (and how the twig arches from the branch)
    how it springs forth in April
    how it is panoplied in July

Read the rest here. It's splendid, isn't it? I love the word "panoplied" and is there a kind of play with "forth" and "July" or am I making that up in my head?

By the way, a few spots below "Poems About Poetry" on my list, right between "McSweeney's" and "Lucky Charms" and "Using the Word 'Splendid'" (they are tied), are "Poems with Great Endings." This poem fits into that category, too. Looks like "Poems by Eve Merriam" might need to crack the top-50 during my next list revision.

P.S. Although I posted this on Wednesday, it's been a busy week, so I'm going to pass it off as my Poetry Friday post, too! Be sure to check out the round up at a wrung sponge.


  1. looks like your "Things I Have a Thing For" could be a poem unto itself. it might have to be played with -- i'd think "Poems with Great Endings" might have to be the last or next-to-last line -- but that's just me.

    what always gets me about poems-about-poetry is how much the remind me a particular surrealist set of instructions for creating found collage poem. after assembling the final bits there is a line "The poem will be like you." for some reason i've always found that line a comfort.

    thanks for sharing, and for rekindling that memory.

  2. david-
    I've been stuck on the "Ingestion" of poems written about by Strand and Merriam as I mentioned. The idea of that poem nourishing you and becoming a part of you and transforming you..

    Thanks for sharing your comment. And I like your poem idea, too. I just might use that.