Size matters … in poems

Here at the Café Poetica, where the wireless is ethereal, the server sets down a small plate with a little morsel I pop into my mouth. These appetizers are almost always "good enough." In the worst cases, they’re gone before I think about spitting them out. In the best cases, I ask, "May I have some more, please?"

Next up: a large plate. This is no empanada: it’s a calzone. I take a bite as Walt Whitman looks at me from the pass-thru, smiling expectantly, wiping his hands on an apron. I stall, "h-h-hot." A few bites in, I’m enjoying this. Before long, I’m stuffed and the plate is still half full. No matter how good this dish is, it’s more than I want at one sitting. And if it’s an off day, I wouldn’t give the leftovers to my dog.

My metaphor is as tart as a lemon (and my similes juicy). You take my point and yet I go on and on, testing your resolve. Let me be brief: be brief. I do not offer advice, especially to poets, whom I have nothing to teach. I’ll just say what I like: a tasty morsel. If I can’t stop my eye from wandering ahead — just how long is this? — I probably won’t get to the end. (Haven’t you already scanned ahead? Would your patience increase if these lines didn’t reach the edge of the page?) There’s a difference between rhetoric and poetry. Get a blog. Keep a journal. Pour your heart out in detail — that could produce great writing and surely produces cheap therapy. But if you have 10 things to say or 10 ways to say one thing, consider which is "best" (don’t ask me) or write 10 poems to figure it out.

That said, please yourself first. If you also please someone else, that’s gravy. Not that everything is better with gravy.

Raven’s Rule: If your poem is longer than The Raven, it should be better. Good luck with that.

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