David Biespiel’s Poetry Wire: My Kingdom for a Bag of Bones


Up most all of last night with some kind of malady contaminated by insomnia, my mind began to drift as a means to stem the anguish. What follows, fair warning, has little symmetry or reason and more, it seems now looking it over, a disproportion of the delirium.

It is best to write poetry without ruthlessness or desperation.

A poet’s manner and the rawness of his or her material are hard to separate.

A poet cannot save material for poetry. Only spend it.

A poet’s raw material is neutral. Interfere with the material, and the poem will come from that.

Don’t leave research to the novelists.

Utilize everything, become flooded. Then, select. As if to turn bitterness into sweetness.

Who was it said to empty your mind? The fullness of emptiness has its pleasures up to a certain age. But then the reverse tends to take over, and a poet risks the emptiness of fullness. I favor poetry that is less interested in either emptiness or fullness but in the wisdom that comes from the mess.

Abandoning a poem, as the saying goes, and calling it finished is okay because the finished poem is perpetually beginning.

Direct statement is one of God’s children, too.

Can we all please throw the poetry workshop an elbow and stop telling poets what not to write. If someone tells you X is a rule, immediately do X. Stick it right in the poem’s rib cage.

Vis a vis Walt Whitman: Harris County, Texas, has the fullest poetical nature and is essentially the greatest poem.

Whitman himself: “The attitude of great poets is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots.” Still a goal.

Again, Whitman: “The American bards shall be marked for generosity and affection and for encouraging competitors.”

In poetry, difficulty is just fine. Same, simplicity.

Harmony in poetry begins in uncertainty. (That also might serve as a definition for metaphor — or this, an alternate definition: Turn atmosphere into solid matter so that instability becomes foundation.)

Is a poem a self-portrait or a self-exposure? Answer that, and you’ll have gone a long way to sorting out what kind of poet you are.

I wish to write poetry between the following workbenches: Model and remodel. Compose and decompose. Orient and disorient.

The anecdotal poem loses me when it becomes a demonstration of the aseptic, when it treats life as mechanical. Otherwise, I have no hostility toward the anecdotal poem.

Ambiguity would like a few nights out on her own without irony.

To write without ambiguity is to write as if social reality is always pleasant. Or worse, to insist on it: “How can anyone be sad on a beautiful day like this!”

Bluntness in poetry is a servant to timing. Delicacy is required. Ba-dum!

The omniscient point of view in poetry has all the honesty of experience of propaganda.

Often when I write a poem I think: My kingdom for a bag of bones. I don’t know what that means but it ratchets up my imagination.

I wish to say something to compare the poet to the stripper, but I can’t stop laughing long enough to do it so you’re on your own!

Question for a poem in progress: What are the principles? What are the means? What is the function? Who is the user? What is the user’s experience?

The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” Rule for Poetry: Exuberance and profusion can benefit from tradition.

Goal for tomorrow’s poem: Be folk and idiosyncratic.

Question for tomorrow’s poem: Can investigation and representation coexist? (As in Elizabeth Bishop’s glorious “Roosters.“)

Worth noting: Before Paul Harvey could write, “God Made a Farmer,” there was already poetry in the land.


Poetry Wire Hat Tip for Best Tweet of the Super Bowl: Award goes to Seth Abramson (@sethabramson): “In early voting, the poetry-hating nation of America is voting overwhelmingly as their favorite SB commercial one in which poetry is recited.”

David Biespiel is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Charming Gardeners and The Book of Men and Women, which was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Poetry Foundation and received the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry. His book of essays A Long High Whistle: Selected Columns on Poetry received the Frances Fuller Victor Award. More from this author →