Katharyn Howd Machan

Professor, Writing


On Writing Poetry

Poetry. For those who make language our art, the very word is a source of power. It is our
pulse, our bloodbeat.

The best poetry begins with the body, Living pulse, real bloodbeat. Breath rhythm. Words come
together; ideas and feelings form. Metaphor emerges as the most elemental music.

Donald Hall
talks of “goatfoot,
milktongue, twinbird”
: pleasure of movement, pleasure of sounds in the
mouth, pleasure of knowing one can create and connect them. Yes. Poetry dances, sings, in
artistic vision. Moving itself, it moves others.

Here is a way to approach making poetry. Recall an experience. Let it flow into your head into your
body until you know fully again what is now memory. Open all your senses: see, hear, smell, taste,
touch again what you lived. Focus on one moment. Feel it completely. Do not try to understand it yet.
Tell about it. Let the words come. Are they questions? Answers? Write so the reader and listeners
respond with their senses, so that they let their bodies think. Do not explain: reveal. Let
the image you create work for you. Ask the poem to talk, silently and aloud. People will listen and

Only such poems are poetry, the art to which people turn when they need to live again the stories, old
and new, which are the significance of life. Rhyme may be a part, traditional form may be a part; but
they are not poetry.

Make it new,” said Ezra Pound. He
meant to take the deep and shape it wide, love and death and laughter. Take the sun which everyone
knows and craft from it startling rainbows, light people need in their sky.

Do not bring everything—all sense and meaning—to us, but make us reach for it. Make us
want to. Delight. Above all, write real; all out lives depend on it.