National Poetry Month: The Poet’s Trade

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Some people think writing poetry is about having big, dramatic feelings and then pouring those feelings onto a page—that you just sit down and scribble and scribble and then you have a poem.

But as writers, though, we know that you have to work hard at your craft, spending those long nights trying to find just the right word or working on the perfect description of a button on a character’s coat.

Amy Lowell’s essay “The Poet’s Trade” has a few things to say about the craft of poetry, and we think you’ll find them inspiring! Amy Lowell was a poet from Brookline, Massachusetts. Born in 1874, she wrote as part of the Imagist Movement — a group of poets who focused on creating clear, visual poetry. “The Poet’s Trade” was first published in 1914 as the preface to one of Lowell’s books of poetry, Sword Blades and Poppy Seed.

As part of our poetry month celebration, we’re hosting a contest that asks you to write a poem in the form of a letter. One grand-prize winner will receive a Moleskine notebook, a copy of Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke, and a custom-created print with a line from their winning poem, from the DomesticNotions etsy shop. So, check out “The Poet’s Trade” below, and get to writing!

The Poet’s Trade by Amy Lowell

No one expects a man to make a chair without first learning how, but there is a popular impression that the poet is born, not made, and that his verses burst from his overflowing heart of themselves. As a matter of fact, the poet must learn his trade in the same manner, and with the same painstaking care, as the cabinet-maker. His heart may overflow with high thoughts and sparkling fancies, but if he cannot convey them to his reader by means of written word he has no claim to be considered a poet. A workman may be pardoned, therefore, for spending a few moments to explain and describe the technique of his trade. A work of beauty which cannot stand an intimate examination is a poor and jerry-built thing.

In the first place, I wish to state my firm belief that poetry should not try to teach, that it should exist simply because it is a created beauty, even if sometimes the beauty of a gothic grotesque. We do not ask the trees to teach us moral lessons, and only the Salvation Army feels it necessary to pin texts upon them. We know that these texts are ridiculous, but many of us do not yet see that to write an obvious moral all over a work of art, picture, statue, or poem, is not only ridiculous, but timid and vulgar. We distrust a beauty we only half understand, and rush in with our impertinent suggestions. How far are we from “admitting the Universe”! The Universe, which flings down its continents and seas, and leaves them without comment. Art is as much a function of the Universe as an Equinoctial gale, or the Law of Gravitation; and we insist upon considering it merely a little scroll-work, or no great importance unless it be studded with nails from which pretty and uplifting sentiments may be hung!

 

National Poetry Month Academy of American Poets

Be sure to keep up your poetry month spirit by checking out poets.org for wonderful poems, writing tips, and poetry-related content!

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