WHAT MAKES A GOOD POEM?

What to look for when reading and what to aim for when writing:

This is the briefest of summaries, mere definitions of key elements in poems. It might be a good exercise to play with each one and then try combining them as your skill develops.

  1. Details: naming; seeing, hearing – all the senses; every word working and, conversely, subtlety: a balance of specific and mystery / known and unknowable / sayable and unsayable. Is the monarch butterfly pinned to a board or does it fly free?

  2. Engagement: poet’s presence, not only intellectually (ideas/abstractions/metaphors), but physical presence/immediacy; an invitation to readers to enter the poem, to be stirred, to connect.

  3. Intimacy: the voice of the poet comes through; expressive words, perspective, insight – the surface narrative/lyric, but something written between the lines that speaks in the poet’s voice but that also touches me unearthing something that connects us (something beyond personal/universal/ah ha moment).

  4. Movement: outward and inward.

  5. Portal: the word, phrase, or stanza that shifts the poem from the surface theme into the deeper, more subtle one, the poem written between the lines.

  6. Sound and rhythm: music; echoes in the language.

  7. Twist: surprise, but also coherence, and subtlety: room for the unknown/unknowable.

  8. Question: I want insight, but not a definitive answer (not overly generalized; respect for the individual); I want to be left with something to think about beyond the poet’s skill with structure and words, rhythm and other “tools” in the writer’s toolbox.

  9. Wow factor: awe moment; not just by poet’s craft/skill/talent, but by the mind and heart of the poet.

Every poem does not have all of these things, but they are what I look for when reading and what I aim for when writing.

You may also be interested in reading How to Write a Good Poem? 6 Writing Tips. The blog looks at the advice of Jane Hirshfield, Robyn Sarah and Tony Hoagland. For more tips scroll through the category “Writing Tips & Workshops.”

Please share your thoughts and share this post. Thanks,
Kathryn

Continue reading “WHAT MAKES A GOOD POEM?”

“Honey Light” by Kathryn MacDonald in Amethyst Review

Notice her concentration /
how she stands on stilty legs /

Thank you, Sarah Law, editor of Amethyst Review, for selecting Honey Light for publication (August 8, 2020).

HONEY LIGHT

When you wake in honey light
linger where river meets the curve
of a bay round as a waxing moon
where the pearl-feathered heron
glides with outstretched wings
alights in weedy shallows
to become just another shadowed reed
perfectly still in solitude.

Notice her concentration
how she stands on stilty legs
in harmony with time and place
like the pause between piano notes
the space that makes the music
…..the downward pause of Billie Holiday
…..Cohen’s gap that lets the light come in
stands alert and dreamy at water’s edge.

Do not rush through the honey light
but flow in the effortless action
and inaction of night becoming day
of the moon’s light giving way to the sun
and the sun’s rising and sinking
into the ebb and flow of the sea
step into the shallows
stand in wu wei.….a heron-woman.

Heron-Moira 2019-05-12 #20 sm.jpg (1 of 1) (3).

Please “like,” share and send your thoughts on the poem. Thanks.

Tartan Lament: a poem by Kathryn MacDonald

conjure embraces / your laughter kissing my ears / as we sway to a Coltrane tune.

Thank you, David Jordan, for selecting “Tartan Lament” for inclusion in the June 2020 (#10) issue of Crossways Literary Magazine (Cork, Ireland).

Crossways Cover #10 June 2020

Tartan Lament

Your grandmother’s armchair
cloaked in wine tartan
sits dappled in sunshine.

The cactus you bestowed years ago
blossoms     its paper-thin petals
fragile as a grieving heart

its prickly spines set to pierce
unwary fingers     warding off
touch as I twist a golden band

conjure embraces
your laughter kissing my ears
as we sway to a Coltrane tune.

Curled in the chair’s embrace
another mid-May day settles
with its abundance of lilac

blossoms like those draping
the mantle behind us
as you gifted
your tartan name.

 

I’d love to learn your thoughts about this poem, the way it addresses the theme and the way it closes. Please leave a note…and share. Thanks.

Another pandemic poem: “The Doves Seem to Croon Tippy Canoe Tippy Canoe”

From your small balcony     roof-top high / you listen to doves cooing in their dovecot / tippy canoe     tippy canoe / a rooster crowing. /        You wonder / if you’ve slipped into Alice’s rabbit hole.

Thank you, Felicity Sidnell for publishing “The Doves Seem to Croon Tippy Canoe Tippy Canoe” in Spirit of the Hills’ “A Journal in Time of Pandemic and Lockdown” (July 10, 2020).

Those of us abroad when Covid-19’s impact hit were about to have our travelling lives interrupted. It was to have been a writing trip, a month in a place that I love. Baracoa is a small city near the northeastern tip of Cuba, facing the Atlantic Ocean with mountains to her back. Geography makes it rather isolated and beautiful. I would visit friends, but mostly I would walk the long malecón and then the much longer curve of beach, and I would write. But then the news broke that airlines were cancelling flights, boarders were closing: paradise interrupted.

DSCN1987 (3)
Along Baracoa’s malecon (photo by Kathryn MacDonald)

THE DOVES SEEM TO CROON TIPPY CANOE TIPPY CANOE
     Baracoa and Boca de la Miel, Cuba

1

Rain falls overnight
cleansing heat and dust of day
susurrus song on the pillow.

Travelling news greets morning
airlines suspending flights
a case of coronavirus at home
factories and daycares closed
the mantra of self-isolation repeated
and repeated
while the sun rises above Baracoa
island town
of ocean waves and mountain breezes.

You feel a bit like Robinson Crusoe.

2

Woodcut visions of medieval plague
bodies stacked and dangling from carts
emaciated people leaning from balconies
cross your mind before you quickly wipe
them aside.

3

Walk miles of ocean shore
to lounge upon a sheltered beach.
Eat uva caleta     grapelike berries
from the tree of Columbus’ cross.
Crack almond shells with a stone.

At the small fishing village of Boca de la Miel
listen to riffs of Spanish voices
drift across Made’s verandah
devour fried platano
     sip ice-cold cerveza
walk home to your casa on Calle Maceo
close to the malecón.

4

From your small balcony     roof-top high
you listen to doves cooing in their dovecot
tippy canoe     tippy canoe
a rooster crowing.
You wonder
if you’ve slipped into Alice’s rabbit hole.

Night’s rain has emptied clouds.
The sullen sky has changed to blue.

Time flattens like a Dali watch.
The doves sing their haunting song.

DSCN1896 (2)
Boat huts, Boca de la Miel (photo by Kathryn MacDonald)

You may also like to read a previous post by SOTH: “Some Poetic Reactions to Covid 19” (May 20, 2020) as well as visit the SOTH website.

When this pandemic passes and we travel again, if Cuba is on your list of places to visit, think about contacting my friend Alber the Hiker who is a wonderful guide who will share his knowledge of Cuba from its history to its unique flora and fauna. He knows his island home from west to east, north to south. He’s a great guy.

Writing Tip: If you haven’t yet joined a writing group, think about doing it. They bring creative people together for sharing, inspiration, encouragement, and often, like SOTH, offer publishing opportunities.

Please leave a comment and share. Thank you.

“Daddy” a poem

a prescience perhaps

007 2010-01-12 Canna Lily P Garden
Photo: Kathryn MacDonald

Sometimes the mind drops a memory like a thud into an otherwise perfectly normal day. You might be washing breakfast dishes or riding your bike, when—Wham—the time-machine reverses. But it isn’t simply an old movie that reruns across your inner eye. It is that, but it is also a surprising connection to the present…an insight into who you’ve become.

DADDY

Winter dances in the church hall
families and a band
fiddler and a square-dance caller
piano     guitar     accordion player
shirts that matched (or not).

Swinging my legs
from a chair, one ringing the dance floor
I watched couples spin like tops
to a polka     do-si-do and sashay
in a square and

women peeking over men’s shoulders
as couples smoothly floated by
my hard folding-chair
and I counted     one-two-three
to a swirling waltz.

Daddy stood in front of me
took my hands to lift me down
my head a bit past his waist
my feet on his     we glided
to the song’s cadence

one of the haunting war time
melodies     beautifully sad.
I did not have a word for yearning
yet felt loss and longing
a prescience perhaps.

 

Writing a poem begins with an action, image, emotion, memory or idea, but by its last line, it discovers something deeper. Ideally, it elicits from the reader a memory and insight in his or her own life. Even if you’ve never experienced a country dance in the 1940s or ’50s, I hope this poem stirs a memory and perhaps an ah ha moment of how that memory awakens a new awareness for you.

Thank you, Bruce Kauffman, Quintesentially Canadian editor, Devour: Art & Lit Canada, for selecting my poem “Daddy” for inclusion in the Summer 2020 issue (page 91).

 

Guest Post: Spirit of the Hills poets on Covid 19

2020: A Journal in Time of Pandemic and Lockdown

We benefit from participating in writing groups…and this is one of mine: Spirit of the Hills / SOTH. It is a total-arts organization where members range from those developing their passions through to those who have published collections and are very accomplished: writers, painters, sculptures — the full gamut.
You will see from this recent post, that the poetic response from our group is all over the map. This is as it should be from a group of independent, creative thinkers and writers. I hope you enjoy reading these poems and will be inspired to write, of course, and to participate in a local or virtual group. Our local group suddenly became a virtual group, as have so many others.
Enjoy (and one of my pandemic poems is included). Please scroll down . . .
So, what do you think? Like & Share (and write).

Thanks for reading to the bottom, Kate.

Some Poetic Reactions to Covid 19

IMG_4863 Reva's cat

The Literary Cat image by Reva 

At This Time by Reva Nelson

I know that

Some of you have

Cleaned the stove, tidied your closets, painted your bathroom, emptied your cupboards

Washed the floors, cleansed your cushions, vacuumed your cars

Written three novels, painted five pictures

And accomplished countless other achievements.

 

I have

Talked on the phone

Watched Netflix

Read ten novels

And have been in shock.

This author of ‘Bounce Back’, Creating Resilience from Adversity

Has not felt resilient, has not felt new energy, has not felt creative.

 

However

I do rejoice

That Nature said, “Enough”

Too many pollutants, too many emissions

Too much waste

 

And has started to stitch up the ozone layer

Put fish back in the waters

Allowed bees to flourish

And has set us straight

 

In spite of ourselves.

hands-1926414_1280

Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

 

LOVE IN A TIME OF DISTANCING by ANTONY DI NARDO

 

Love is but a syllable in a book

two other words are you and me

together we determine how bright

the last light leaves the day

 

you talk in terms of candles

I quote variations on a simple word

for luminous

we agree to flatten the curve with a kiss

 

the cello plays Billie Holiday

the clouds a chorus from Hallelujah  

April snaps and out we flutter like birds

from mountain to mountain

 

a moment’s breath to reach the peak

our breath combines the words we speak

dead-trees-947331_1280

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

FADING STARS by CHRISTOPHER BLACK

While robins woke to fading stars,

That drew fat worms to morning doom,

And tired hands sought coffee jars,

Still half in dream and nightly tomb,

While prostitutes and presidents,

Walked secret streets, or secret rooms,

And madmen claimed it all made sense,

But nightly danced in drunken fear,

While others stared in innocence,

But couldn’t help a sudden tear,

Rising from their aching hearts,

For those they lost they once held dear,

A message came from foreign parts,

Of something strange passed through the air;

As if a fusillade of poisoned darts,

That pierced the old and young, the sad and fair,

In silence, swift, and thus, unseen,

As Satan climbing Heaven’s stair,

His strength renewed and body lean,

To reclaim his old authority,

And sit the chair where God had been,

Sans remorse, regret, sans pity,

First one succumbed and then the many,

From east to west, in town, in city,

The working poor lost every penny,

And sat alone, apart, in wonder,

For them escape there was not any,

As the world around them broke asunder,

For existence cares not what your name,

Or what day they put you under,

And while many played the ancient game,

Of searching entrails for some secret reason,

A bleating scapegoat they could blame,

Others knew we’d had our time, our run, our season,

Had squandered all, destroyed the world,

Against Life itself had plotted treason,

So down the great abyss were hurled.

 

soup-1006694_1280

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

MAKING SOUP by KATE MACDONALD

What’s in the cupboard?

What’s in the fridge?

 

She peeks here and there.

Veggies? Broth?  Seasonings?

 

Abundance     and scarcity.

 

Peel.     Chop.     Substitute.

Sauté.     Simmer.     Taste.

Adjust.     Purée.

 

Beyond the window

sun shines     beckoning.

Her bike’s in winter storage.

Tulips

Yellow daffodils

Narcissus surely bloom

Robins and worms

Bunnies under spring Hosta leaves

A solitary swan on the river

But an ingredient’s lacking?

Quixotic desires?

Think Midas.

 

Don your cowboy bandana.

Substitute two feet for two wheels.

Make soup.

 

 

dessert-3334057_1280

 

GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW HAIKUS by KIM AUBREY

1.

Reality too harsh?

Retreat under meringue peaks

to bake a Daquoise

2.

What could be more real

than sugar, egg whites, and cream

beaten, then eaten?

3.

To frost sweet pastry

amidst news of plague and grief

pipes rosettes of hope.

IMG_0585 Kim'sCakes

Kim’s cakes, K. Aubrey

 

Thanks to the hard-working volunteers — K. Aubrey and Felicity Sidnell, among them — and poets.

For more about SOTH’s pandemic project: Spirit of the Hills

 

Poem: City of Tulum (Orbis #191, U.K.)

Thank you, Carole Baldock, for including “City of Tulum” in Orbis: International Literary Journal, #191, Spring 2020.

My visit to the Maya ruins of Tulum came about as a wonderful bit of travel serendipity during a sailing sojourn to Isla Mujeras. My friend and I took a ferry from the island to the mainland and rented a car to drive down the Maya peninsula to the archeological site. Rain pelted and the streets flooded as we crossed Cancun and made our way southward. Harrowing — as Tulum once was for sailors approaching from the sea.

Tulum is unique among Maya sites: it is the only one of the ruins on the water. That day, after the rain softened to mist, we ventured along winding paths past stepped-structures reaching into the sky. We could hear waves breaking before we came to the precipice overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The poem describes one of the historic edifices, as well as the use the people made of the treacherous shallows. I hope that you enjoy reading “City of Tulum.”

Orbis #191 cover

 

City of Tulum

Yucatan, Mexico

A veil of constant rain cloaked Tulum
perched high on a cliff above this ancient Mayan port
where ships with hulls of treasures were guided                                                                                                                                                                          into shallows                                                                                                                                                              onto reefs

where once Mayan priests

ritualistic keepers and writers of knowledge     astrology     and cultic rites
climbed wearing long robes their heads drooping plumage
climbed close to their gods in the sky

where a still beating heart pulled from a chest fed the gods’ hunger
where shadows cast ominous stains on an altar.

I search the ruins of Tulum
for what lingers     ghostlike     in the mist.

At the precipice     above fishermen casting nets from small boats
my feet cling to the edge     high above the sea.

Far

   far below

        waves assaulting shore

 in stunning agony.

 

Orbis #191 cover header

Check out the journal: Orbis International Literary Journal.

Please share and/or leave a note to let me know what you think.

Thanks,

Kate

 

Panku poems to lift your spirits

Someday soon we’ll glimpse the smile behind the gossamer mask. Until then, remember the size of life, how it outreaches us, as we stand both under and within heaven, our vantage limited only by our individual imagination and the quality of our individual attention. Poetry may not be sufficient to fend off the loneliness of life in this age of confinement but it may, in the words of the poet make of one little room an everywhere.
John B. Lee

In this special international issue of Devour, the publisher, Richard (Tai) Grove of Hidden Brook Press / HBP, has published a poetry hybrid he calls “panku.”

A special Panku issue for The Poetry Pandemic Project.

For this project the name “Panku” comes from a cross between the words “Pandemic” and “Haiku” = Panku. It is meant to be a humourous play on words. In these strange pandemic days, I thought it was time that we lightened up a bit so I started “The Poetry Pandemic Project”. We put a call our for uplifting, fun, light, amusing, pandemic poems in the form of a Panku. – See the call for submissions on the last page of this magazine.

The poems are no longer than 4 lines and contain no more than 15 words.

At the time of posting, the “call” is still open as Tai works on another volume (flip through the pages to page 86 for details; email: hiddenbrookpress@gmail.com ).

Devour: Special International Issue

You’ll find my contribution on pages 58-59.

Enjoy and contribute to the next issue.

 

 

Please note: the image of the cover has disappeared, leaving these two boxes. Until I can figure out how to delete them, please ignore.

 

 

 

 

 

“Rise: Because We are Equal” QAC Exhibition

This exhibition celebrates International Women’s Day, March 8 — a global day honouring the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women all over the world. The show’s goal is to encourage women to express themselves artistically and authentically.

unnamed

My contribution includes two pieces of art and the poetry collection A Breeze You Whisper.

Book-NSKathrynMacDonald-ABreezeYouWhisper

 

  • Mounted broadsheet: “Avatar,” a poem and original watercolour image

QAC exhibit-Avatar (1 of 1)

  • Oil sketch: “The Seeker”

QAC exhibit-Seeker (1 of 1)

These works join an amazing group of artists – painters, photographers, writers. Drop by the Quinte Arts Council at 36 Bridge Street East, PO Box 22113, Belleville, Ontario K8N 5A2, phone 613-962-1232 or visit the website: Quinte Arts Council.

Please share if you want to celebrate International Women’s Day. And, please, let me know what you think.

Thanks for taking time to join us, Kathryn

 

 

 

A Breeze You Whisper: Six Poems

If I had to choose one word for [Kathryn MacDonald’s] poetry, I´d say “sensuality.” It overflows the book´s margins shipping fruit and fire that crackles in its pages as I hold my breath caught in the delicacy of her phrases or gaspingly sigh marveled at their attractiveness. Miguel Ángel Olivé Iglesias, Holguin University, Cuba.

Recently, Professor Manuel Olivé of Holguin University, Cuba wrote a review of A Breeze You Whisper that was published as “Whispers & Flames.”

In a Fragile Moment: A Landscape of Canadian Poetry.  Professor Olivé discusses six poems from the collection. For readers of the review who are curious about the poems themselves, please scroll down.

Book-NSKathrynMacDonald-ABreezeYouWhisper

A Breeze You Whisper

A breeze, you whisper.
A bird, you soar and hover
before dropping into the nest
hidden within my tossing limbs.

 

Blueberry Picking

My womb was full of you
the first time
I went berry picking
at Lake of the Woods,
round and placid
like the heavy rocks
from which the prickly
bushes seemed to grow.
I fondled the sweet
berries with my tongue,
staining my lips blue.
You sensed my mood
then and quieted your boxing fists.
Now your seed grows
beneath another woman’s heart.

One Woman

 Your laughter bubbles
rising gurgling geyser
filling me with love.
Exuberant you
living fully in today
deep in life’s river
currents and rapids
moving with enthusiasm
welcoming flotsam
tossed up in turmoil
longing, needing and loving
glowing like sunrise
or polished wet stones
exploding into warm air
a surprise hug
manifesting joy
and rampant passion
all wrapped in one woman.

Avatar

She clasps my hand
her soul tremoring through
fingertips
her tears creating rainbows
of release.

She turns through her nights
courting images
and exaggerations
that revolve     like
the moon     through her
seasons            and
from the pinnacle of her
rotation
she spirals     like
the dream
shattering.

Stooping
she gathers the fragments
carefully placing them
in paint pots
later
to brush across canvas.

Pleasure

Your fingers touch the buttons
pushing them through each hole
creating a V in my white nightgown.

All the while, your eyes seek mine,
hold them, as your hands reach
to caress my breasts,
and I am eager for your touch.

You pleasure me
and more.
Have done so for half my lifetime
and more.

Winter Storm

she marks
distance with care
measuring her path
from fencerows
while he tugs
at her memory
when motion was joy
when their bodies easily
skimmed white powder
now she
inches slowly downward
feeling sleet on her forehead
through whiteout she sees
his blue eyes
his hand reach
feels it cup her small breast

 

Your thoughts are always appreciated. Please leave a comment, and also, please share.

Available through your local bookstore or online: A Breeze You Whisper