The Periodic Table of Poetic Elements

Jeffrey Skinner breaks it down for you. From The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets: A Self-Help Memoir.

seen at


Matthew Zapruder on the Scottish Poetry Library podcast

“I think people have this misconception about poets that we sit down and figure out everything we’re going to say before we say it and then, because we have this “Great Command Of Words,” we can force language into saying whatever it is we want to say … but that’s not how most poets work. They have an instinct for language, they study language, they live with it, they feel it, they are attentive to it, so that when something comes up that seems resonant or has potentiality, poets will be able to activate those words, and make things more resonant. That’s what I think it’s all about. Not getting some message across. I mean, what’s the message? It’s scary to be alive? We’re mortal? We live in vulnerable bodies? Death is terrifying? Love is good? Don’t be cruel? Don’t take other people stuff? I mean, we’re not moralists, we’re trying to work with our materials.”

Matthew Zapruder

Listen to the whole podcast here, in which Zapruder reads a few of his poems and discusses poetry, including his poem on

readings at open space & w2

A bunch to catch up on.  The Victoria reading was awesome, even though, in terms of stutters and mumbles it probably was my worst.  My mouth was perpetually dry and, I don’t know, mistakes tend to create this feedback loop. Glitches all around. Still, probably the loveliest crowd (who seemed to be o.k., or even charmed by my nervousness) and one of the nicest venues (I always want super-8 loops to be playing behind me during readings!) and so well organized. Open Space is my favorite thing about Victoria right now.

I read some Cloud Farm stuff that seemed to go over really well, so I’ll try and incorporate that in more readings. Also threw in some poems by my friend Rob Taylor, who’s got a new book. Anne-Marie was spellbinding, Garth wielded language like a master swordsman. Then we went and drank lotsa beer and danced manically to a local cover band.

The following Monday was the w2 reading that also was a lot of fun. I read last, which means I had at least 3 beers in me;  noticeably better for my nerves.  Also, video! probably the first time I’ve got to watch myself reading and yes, dear readers, it’s as mortifying as you may imagine. Still, a good learning experience, and there are a bunch of things I can be aware of now, to improve how I read. I’ll maybe save the thoughts for another post, and just let you watch it. I did dedicate a poem to The Internet  so I can’t really make excuses not to share. Also, thanks again to Sean Cranbury for making it all happen (and for holding onto the hat I left behind at the bar.)

Watch it here. I’m introduced at 1:48:17

Oh Noetry


Some of my poems obviously became more public recently; significantly, to some of my family members who don’t usually read any poetry, let alone mine. My mom said they were ‘weird’ (though my brother said they were “dope”!) and I got a few glazed-eye responses from others. I realized it’s been a while since I’ve talked to people who are very much outside the poetry sphere about poetry, and I was curious to get a sense of what people think of it these days.

I could have asked friends on facebook but worried they might be too sparing – so I headed over to the AskMeFi section at the community blog Metafilter and asked a question: Why not poetry?

I got over a hundred and thirty responses. Its worth reading – a lot repeat what’s already said, but there’s some thoughtful and sobering comments in there (sobering if you’re a poet, but maybe reassuring if you’re someone who can’t stomach the stuff; you’re far from alone.)

Some of them were expected : That it requires a lot of work/attention, it lacks plot, it’s too personal or navel-gazey, the signal-to-noise ratio is too high to find the good stuff.  I’ve heard a lot of these complaints from poets, too.

Actually, the ‘ personal’ thing has interested me for a bit, because I don’t think a lot of my work as very personal. I remember being asked how do you share something so personal and it was like, does an architect have doubts about designing a building because it’s too personal?

(Sincere apologies to architects for the comparison.)

One of the things that surprised me was the pining over the lack of rhyme and meter in contemporary poetry. What I’ve noticed is that unless you’re terribly good at it, most poets get laughed out the room when they do it (I must admit I roll my eyes at a lot of it.) I suspect that a lot of people exposure to poetry in highschool was a lot of Shakespeare, and it’s hard to see the kind of fragmented, stream-of-consciousness of today’s poetry as, well, poetry. This is a issue with education and I’d like to think it’s changed but I don’t know for sure.

here's a little legend for the never believer / here's a little ghost for the offering

Relatedly, there were a few people who said they get their poetry fix from lyrics in music and I can definitely relate to that. In my young years, before I actively read much poetry,  I probably would have said my main poetic inspiration were Nirvana or R.E.M.  A good melody with the right delivery can make the simplest of phrases feel like gospel.

I want to respond  to a lot of the comments but I’d like to keep the dialogue going with the obvious questions: How can poets address these issues? Does it require sacrificing some of its qualities to be able to connect with people who don’t like the stuff?  What are the cultural perceptions of poetry (that the only way to read it is to decipher it, scalpel in hand, for example) that are misguided? Should poetry try to incorporate other mediums or forms to get their work across? Why are we being cryptic and alienating; or is just that the whole idea is to distress or obfuscate meaning? What are poets that are generally liked by the masses doing differently? Should we ban the popular style of precious drawn-out-monotone readings that makes me want to stab myself with nearby dinner utensils?

Feel free to use the comment section to voice your thoughts! I’ll leave you with one of the the many comments I enjoyed from the thread:

“There are individual poems that I love with a great fierceness, but poetry as a genre leaves me cold for the reasons others have already mentioned. It’s so hard for someone to do it well, and when it’s done badly it’s so much worse than bad prose. I think there’s actually a lot of amazing poetry in the world right now, but it might be in the form of song lyrics, or kids books, or advertising jingles, or, I don’t know, LOLcat captions… Basically, the more someone insists that poetry is completely different from all of those things, the more I tend to expect their poetry will be inward-focused, pretentious twaddle. Those that focus less on what their work is called and/or if it’s going to earn them the proper academic credibility, and more on describing a piece of life in an accurate, relateable way, tend to be the ones that can unexpectedly gut-punch me with laughter, or sadness, or fear, which I’ve always felt was one of poetry’s strengths as a form.”
posted by MsMolly at 1:41 PM on April 27

Happy Nearly-Over Poetry Month Everyone!

Sommer Browning @ the Denver/Vancouver Reading

Recently attended the Denver/Vancouver reading in which a few poets from Denver, CO were paired up with a few of Vancouver’s poets (why not, right? Our cities already half-rhyme!) It was a lovely and weird reading; Ray Hsu half-drunkenly left a poem in Stephen Harper’s voicemailbox, Noah Eli Gordon used audience members as readers with on/off switches to create cacophony of voices.

The standout for me was a reading by Sommer Browning, whose first book, “Either Way I’m Celebrating” I consumed in a whirry coffee-buzz the following day.

Browning writes poems and draws little comics and seems to appreciate the relationship that jokes have with poems, how they both tilt and reinvent the world.

Her opening poem at the reading, An Officer And A Gentleman, took the voice of someone guessing in a game of Charades:

Movie. Four Words. First word. Sounds like….making a box with your hands….sculpting, shaping, sounds like shaping, caping, maping, paping, paping? That’s not a word, is it? Paping? Nevermind, go to the second word. Second word. Fingers close together. Inch worm! No. Bit, tiny , little….2001: A Space Odyssey! I don’t know why I said that…

it carries on that way, read at an appropriately frantic and choppy pace by Browning, getting more and more frustrating and absurd, until the arrival at the answer is both a surprise and somehow profound. The poem might be taken as just a clever form, but it illustrates very succinctly the difficulties of communication.

[Browning  performing the poem at a different reading (around the 4:52 mark)]

I don’t always totally follow where Browning is going in her poems, but there is something so natural about the voice, one is drawn there anyway. And though often funny, its not the only note played: snappy one-liners are offset by surreal images, and darker contemplations. Sommer can go from talking about watching adult movies as a kid, to sea monkeys, to this ‘we knew our parents didn’t love each other.‘ Her ability to make this work shows a wide range and confidence of voice.

The comics in her book are simple crude illustration that are sometimes surreal, sometimes charmingly wtf, yet always feel at home amongst the poems. Here’s one:

It seems that Browning has put out a number of chapbooks, but this is her first ‘real’ book and one I was grateful to read. With the daunting prospect of putting together my own first book on the horizon, its refreshing to see one that includes a drawing of a dildo riding a bicycle – and yet still holds up as a strong collection. Check out here website and the neat things she does here.