What makes a poem

Yesterday was World Poetry Day, and to celebrate, the poetry editors from CV2 and Prairie Fire hosted a reading/conversation at McNally Robinson Booksellers. (Jennifer Still said she had to cross out “World Forestry Day” on her calendar to write in “Poetry,” and I’m sure there’s a poem in there somewhere.)

I gasped (and then giggled) at Lori Cayer’s metaphors, got swept away by the music of Jennifer Still’s language, thrilled at Barbara Schott’s response to Mary Oliver (one of my favourites!), and was inspired by Sarah Klassen to try writing a Glosa. (I said “try” – I’ll let you know how that goes.)

When CV2 editor Clarise Foster asked the panel what they look for in a poem, I (and everyone else around me) took notes:

Jennifer:
Imagination! It has to feel discovered, to feel like it has life under it. (Some poems feel bored with themselves!)

Lori: Fresh language! Not the usual metaphors. No cliches.

Sarah:
A poem should have “lift off,” it needs to soar! As Robyn Sarah said: it should transcend its own particulars.(Look here for more of Robyn Sarah’s thoughts: http://www.drunkenboat.com/db9/poetics_poems/sarah/bottom_line.html) I look for evidence the writer has a vision, sheds new light. A poem that makes me want to read it a second time. A poem that makes me want to write.

Barbara: Yes to what they said!

After most of the poets and poetry-lovers had left, I picked up Lori Cayer’s Stealing Mercury from the table. I opened it. It crackled. I almost burned my hand.

Desire is a persistent matter
a heavy metal moving like an animal
under the skin
I want some things just because
they are beautiful

And I knew what they were talking about.

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