Writing advice from Mary Oliver.


I want the poem to ask something and, at its best moments, I want the question to remain unanswered. I want it to be clear that answering the question is the reader’s part in an implicit author-reader pact. Last but not least, I want the poem to have a pulse, a breathiness, some moment of earthly delight. (While one is luring the reader into the enclosure of serious subjects, pleasure is by no means an unimportant ingredient.)

[…] Take out some commas, for smoothness and because almost every poem in the universe moves too slowly. Then, once the “actual” is in place (the words), begin to address the reason for taking the reader’s good and valuable time — invite the reader to want to do something beyond merely receiving beauty… Make sure there is nothing in the poem that would prevent the reader from becoming the speaker of the poem.

[…] The poem in which the reader does not feel himself or herself a participant is a lecture, listened to from an uncomfortable chair, in a stuffy room… The point is not what the poet would make of the moment but what the reader would make of it.

Mary Oliver, from ‘The Swan.’

…and here’s a poem written using ^these rules. See what you think.

(Image credit)

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