Posted by: jeannineatkins | January 21, 2011

A Conversation with the Poet

I have to watch from overdoing some tendencies when I write poetry. Here’s a recent talking-to I had with myself.

A Conversation with the Poet

Be leery of words too common in the trade.
Enrapture, begone, even blue should be used with caution.
Avoid sunrise, sunsets, and apple blossoms.
Better to find new words for where day breaks, night collapses.
Choose the apple tree when fruit and leaves have bared
crooked gray branches to cold air.

I’m sorry to tell you the birds will have to go.
We hear their song, yes, but they’ve been making noise too long.
Skimp on what glitters. Be prudent describing the acrobatics of cats.
If you insist on roses, consider thorns instead of petals,
though in every case, watch out for too much metaphor
as you track down the secrets of the universe,
mysterious codes that crack paths to happiness

or a single bird on a branch. You can change your mind.
Birds are all right to put in poems after all.

For the Poetry Friday roundup, please visit A Teaching Life,  a blog I recently discovered and like very much for Tara’s takes on poetry and a variety of ways to write.



  1. WONDERFUL!!!!! You should submit this to the SCBWI BUlletin or Writer’s Digest! 🙂

  2. This is so beautiful and thought-provoking. But really? The birds have to go?! **sob**

  3. YES to Jo’s idea!!

  4. LOVE this, Jeannine. Agree with Jo.
    “I’m sorry to tell you the birds will have to go” made me smile.

  5. Thanks!! xo

  6. I kind of think birds should be in every poem, so I just have to warn myself to not overdo. Notice the retraction in the second stanza. Rules are always made to be broken, and if Emily Dickinson can put hummingbirds in a hundred or so poems, they’ve got to be good enough for the rest of us. If we try really really hard to make them fit just right.
    Thanks, Tracy!

  7. Oh, I love this! 🙂

  8. Thanks, Jama. Hope you are feeling better?

  9. This is wonderful! Maybe I should talk to myself in a poem to get me going again on this story…
    “skimp on what glitters” there is definitely something in that for me!

  10. Came here via Becky Levine’s tweet. Really enjoyed this~

  11. Coversation with a Poet
    A pleasure to read. And I love the “take-back” at the end!

  12. Thanks for the love, Becky! (and sending people over)

  13. Maurissa, talking to oneself in any genre is always good. Best of luck with your story!

  14. Thank you for coming by, and for commenting!

  15. Re: Coversation with a Poet
    Thank you for reading. Taking back seems part of the process. Though it’s one more thing we can overdo!

  16. I know, I know. I just had that initial knee-jerk reaction to your words. I’m just so sensitive. 🙂

  17. Wow. As always you inspire and amaze me. xoxoxo

  18. May I print this out? My notebook needs the reminder.

  19. xoxoxo back to you, Debbi. Enjoy a weekend of well deserved rest!

  20. feel free to print, Linda. I’m honored. Though I aspire to get a word into your teapot. Mine is also lovely and blue and a gift from a dear friend (grandmothers favored teabags) but it’s just tea, no ideas. Still your post the other day made me contemplate it in a new way.

  21. “even blue should be used with caution”
    I remember advice given to me: Never use the word bone.
    I think it might be all right to put in poems after all. ; )

  22. I love this. And all the replies make it even richer. Bone? Fascinating.
    I’m FB “sharing” via Jo and Becky!

  23. Yikes. Glad the author of the wonderful, I think, Lovely Bones, never heard that one. I guess we all have our lists, to consider and break. Even now my head is starting to fill with blue bird poems.
    Thank you for coming by!

  24. Poetry challenge
    Jeannine, after reading your post and all the comments, the following phrase popped into my head:
    “Blue bird bone”
    I think that could make an interesting) title or “seed phrase” for a poem or poems, and I think someone — maybe several someones — should write it/them. — PL

  25. “though in every case, watch out for too much metaphor
    as you track down the secrets of the universe,
    mysterious codes that crack paths to happiness”
    …I am ruminating over these lines, marveling over them, really. Thank you, Jeannine!

  26. How did you know I was waxing eloquent about a sunset and dog acrobatics in my story today?!
    This is wonderful, Jeannine. Such a beautiful reminder for us writers to look at things anew.

  27. A good poetic reminder. And a fun format, too.

  28. Re: Poetry challenge
    Go for it!

  29. Ruminating and marveling: you’re too kind, Tara, but thank you.

  30. You know you can count on me to come in and bust up any waxing eloquence. xo

  31. effective instruction
    the secrets of the universe,
    (a little overdone, superhero movie trailer)
    mysterious codes that crack paths to happiness
    (shiveringly original)
    The poet teaches herself! Most enjoyable, Jeannine.
    I was amused to see Blythe’s comment about “bones”–there came a time c. 1999 when I noticed that anyone considered a serious poet had put the bones of something into a poem, or a something of bone. Luckily I have never wanted to write dinosaur poems, so that’s okay. I have trouble with too much floating and rising. : )

  32. Irene Latham’s poem and yours work so nicely together! (Both are saved in my digital folder of favorite poems!)
    Love this line for writing and for living:
    “You can change your mind.”
    Thank you.

  33. Oh, thank you THANK YOU for allowing the bird poems after all. 🙂 Such great reminders here. It is so easy to write the expected… and often that is what comes first, and that’s okay. In revision, though, gotta find fresh ways to express oneself. It’s part of the beauty and challenge of writing, don’t you think? Thanks so much for sharing!

  34. Re: effective instruction
    thanks for your thoughts — it’s interesting to note our tendencies, and decide when to go with them and when to strike out a new path. Like triceratops bones rising and floating (which I originally typed as gloating — sometimes the typos are helpful, too. And sometimes not.)

  35. Re: I’m sorry to tell you…
    I’m pretty soft spoken as a teacher, for good and ill, and it’s how I talk to myself, too. I’m glad to know another fan of bird poems! When they add color and song to the January landscape, it’s hard to find fault.

  36. Thanks, Mary Lee. Yes, changing one’s mind can make everything go more smoothly. Isn’t it Emerson who said something like: consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds?

  37. I have to give myself mini lectures so that all my poems don’t have birds for them, but of course do allow myself to dole them out! You’re allowed as many as you like. And I agree about liking the challenge to see things fresh, which is what I like when I read poems, too. The surprise — often of the recognition kind: oh yes, that was there all along, and how wonderful.

  38. This poem is wonderful, Jeannine. It’s on my wall already. I was so upset at first that you took out birds, and so relieved you changed your mind.
    Also checked out your friend Linda’s site, with the teapot of brilliance. What brilliance! I love how comments add to a post and grow our little world.

  39. Every sentence I wrote this morning, few though there were, I thought of you coming in and busting up any cliches, and it just made me smile.

  40. There’s that need to keep an eye on what draws us in, like birds, to see when all the featheriness is too much and when the tip of a wing is just what we need. It’s being who we are, but changing our clothes from time to time. Or something like that.
    I’m happy you checked out Linda’s blog. I can’t get that blue teapot out of my mind.

  41. Wow.
    What a stunning lot of comments and what a lovely poem! I hear ya…I have to remind myself to be fresh, not “re-tready” no matter how lovely the tread I’m re-running. 😛

  42. Nice reminders to stay away from the hackneyed and overdone!

  43. Re: Wow.
    Carlie, thanks for stopping by with your sweet comments. And encouraging us not to re-tread!

  44. Thanks, Jenn. Or at least reminding us about second, third, etc. drafts with hatchets.

  45. Oh, Jeannine–brilliant! Very Billy Collins-y, which I love. My favorites:
    night collapses
    mysterious codes that crack paths to happiness

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