Sunday, February 26, 2012

Buy my Book when it comes out! Old Post Revived

Having just received word my latest chapbook, Friday in the Republic of Me, is about to hit the presses, I thought I would revive one of my old posts concerning publishing and the concept of contests.  To be clear, I have won exactly one chapbook competition in my life.  Since then, I have had the good fortune to have found an editor willing to work with me on a whole laundry list of publications.  Michael, over at Foothills Publishing, has been wonderful through the publication of three chapbooks and one full length book.  

So, in addition to this being a sales pitch, I want you to read what I have said in the past about the things which I feel are important regarding contests, publishing, fees, awards, and a lot of other ramblings.  This particular post comes from August, 2008, about the time I received my contributor copies of my third chapbook, Working in the Bird House.  Long before my full length book was accepted, dropped and then picked up again.  It was just before I started writing what would become my manuscript, Sailing This Nameless Ship, based upon The Telemachy.

The first part (smaller font) was my response to a post by Collin Kelley.

150 years ago, a poet could make a living being a poet. Poetry books were plentiful and some were dreadful (just like the over saturation of the so-called psychological serial-killer murder novel) and some were astounding, but most poets could make at least a simple living.

Poets look to the contest because that seems to be one of the three or four so-called legitimate publishing venues offered and virtually 90% of all presses who make themselves known to the writing world at large (see what I did with the word large?) operate on contests and the fees they generate. They try to attract quality judges with honorariums and hope to pay poets a stipend up front because they know if a press run of 500 or 1000 sells out, that is a contemporary miracle unto itself.Readership of poetry is down. 

That much is obvious, but what should be as plain to see, is the establishment refuses to acknowledge that. Where the old leadership could once get away with putting down self-publication as being base and tacky, they forget that money has become a part of the series of questions editors have chosen to be subject to when deciding what to publish. The big houses only publish the 3-4% of those poets who will sell out a first run without breaking a sweat---and that determination is based a a whole lot of assumption.

One of my old professors, a dear friend of mine, who used to publish his books through Copper Canyon gave one of his strongest warnings against self publishing while ignoring one very telling contradictory statement. He basically admitted that if Sam Hamill himself hadn't taken a liking to him, he doubts any of his books would have been picked up elsewhere. Now that Copper Canyon turned down his latest ms. as 'un-readable,' he's in a position where other presses have had a chance to see what his poetry is, and actually ask him to submit. But without that break where would he be?

Most new poets find themselves in the same boat, and look to contests to break in to the world of publishing. They want to feel legitimate or legitimized, and a prize has that connotation. It isn't the money if you are in serious contention for a book, and it isn't prestige. Well, not in this world anyways.

Publishing poetry today is like navigating the perfect storm. Too many elements controlling the issue which spill over into to many other realms, which cannot all be solved at once, except for brief calms or cloud breaks, where the occasional poet is lucky enough to slip through.

As you can see I have said a few things about the subject, but I really do feel as if I am leaving a lot out, and that is why I am here to say even more. What I am about to say is based not on my intellectualizing about the publishing industry, or assumptions about what other poets think about the issue. It really is my personal side of things---that conflict I feel between my position as a
 Poet and poet.

I am not one of those people who can claim to have never submitted my poetry to a contest. My first chapbook made it to about a dozen contests in various forms, about half of them for pay at $10-12 each. It finally was a contest which sent it to publication, but I honestly cannot remember if I paid a reading fee or not. I honestly cannot remember. I know there was no cash prize, only books. My second and third chapbooks were submitted to only one press each---Foothills Publishing. What an honor it was to have found an editor who liked my poetry, especially poetry of such divergent voice and subject matter, enough to give me the green light almost instantly.

I know that's not every one's experience, but I have had my woes, too. I have explained in various formats and versions the 18 month communications blackout one editor imposed who was supposedly very interested in publishing my first chapbook all the way back in 2001. That first book made it out in 2005, almost 9 months late from its scheduled release. But I digress.

I am not so sure that I resent the contest system. Above I mention how presses need money for attracting quality judges who are respected by their peers. But there is more. Presses feel a need to offer money to the winner of the contest, which in all reality will be the only royalties a poet will receive from his or her book. Money in itself is not so much a draw for the poet, because $1000 here or $1500 there is certainly not going to provide a living for any poet. But I can tell you that if I received notice that my full length book was going to be published in the coming year and I told all of my friends, about half of my non-writing friends would be asking me how much I was going to be paid. You see, while poets try to think of themselves as being better than placing a monetary value on their art, the rest of the world isn't so stuck up. What matters to them, to most people, is getting paid for your work. If I am honest with you and myself, I have to admit that I feel some pressure to feel as if I am being compensated for my writing. I don't want just satisfaction for a job well done, either. I want to show people that I can prove that I have beaten the odds and established myself to be higher on the food chain than what is popularly perceived to be a poet's place in contemporary society---that of little more than pond scum. Let me be plain about this:
 There is nothing bad about feeling as if you have been justly paid for your effort. 

While there are certainly mis-management issues all over the publishing world, and large, commercial presses continue to ignore 99% of the best poetry being written and published in journals in favor of those three or four names they know will sell, it does not mean they are responsible for everything that is wrong in the attitudes which prevail in the publishing world. As Collin
 and others have pointed out, the proliferation of MFA programs has a share of the blame. Where they once were the solution to the sometimes snobbish image of The top programs in the nation, they are just as likely to be nothing more than a cash cow for the university which sponsors them and a quiet, anonymous haven for the mediocre faculty who populate them.

Poets have a portion of the blame to share themselves. Both Poets and poets have a share they must own. On one level we are an amazingly supportive group of people. We rally around each other's successes, and of course we are outraged by injustice in it's many forms against poets. However, there is an ugly side to each ones of us. I myself have many times been quite critical of others as well as being the outsider. Many times this is my own doing, but I can no longer count how many times I have been snubbed as a poet by other poets because I was on the wrong side of the state, or because I don't have a full length collection behind me, or because I haven't been a featured instructor at a high profile workshop.

The Old Guard has its slice of crow pie to eat, too. Though I feel there is currently a shift in attention happening, too many people are still identifying each other by who they learned from or who they like to read. Let's face it. The Old Guard likes that, and who wouldn't? They get all the great gigs, a lot of the judging fees go to them for reading a dozen manuscripts, people come to hear them read and tell amusing stories about the dead, and their books bring real revenues to publishers which guarantee the next book. They no longer have to play the game because editors fall all over themselves and each other trying to get them to send their next manuscript their way. The Old Guard simply doesn't speak out enough against the kind of crap going on. And why not? They had to face down the big names when they were young and they see it as a rite of passage. To be honest, some of that is a good thing.

So now we are to the editors. Some editors, as you know, are the most wonderful people on earth---better than the Elks. They champion the people they can rather than those who will be a shoe-in for sales. Unfortunately there are a lot more editors who see a dollar sign or are too consumed by what they think others will think of them if they publish 'you-know-who.' Editors need to be more brave in choosing the right poet for the day rather than trying to guess who will sell. Let me say that again. They need to be brave enough to choose the poet who is right for the
 day. Poetry is transitory. Poetry is meant to reflect the spirit of the day, be an immediate impression brought to the world's attention.

So now we are back to the contest system. Like I said, I am not so sure I hate the system. My full length book is out to four to six presses. I think two are pay contests. However, every one of the places I submitted to were presses I felt an immediate connection with. One press isn't even offering cash---just copies. The other press is $500, which if I win, will be gladly traded for author copies. You see, I am not entirely naive. The contests worth winning are those contest we would buy from even if we weren't poets, but merely readers of poetry. This is connected to the poets, because we have the real power in this. If we don't submit to questionable presses, they don't do business. Now I know there are far too many naive poets out there who think the first forty-five poems they ever wrote are ready for book publication, so they send it out to press after press, paying $20-35 a pop. That brings us back to the poet community and awareness education, which is, I suppose, what everyone is doing by bringing attention to this latest scandal.

My overall point, if you have decided to skip all of what I just wrote, is that there is not any one thing which can account for the problems that contests create, nor can we simply dismiss the system as flawed beyond any chance to redeem itself. Ask any contest winner and see if winning the prize and publication was the worst thing that could have happened. Most will say that their experience was just fine. We need to take Stacey Brown's
 experience for what it was---an example of a press who obviously has their priorities way out of whack.

Friday, February 24, 2012


I have always been kind of slow when it comes to these sorts of things, so bear with me.  I was just informed by someone my post yesterday, regardless of my explanation near the top, might be taken by some to be an accusation or sour grapes on my part for not being “embraced” by the poetry community as much as I might hope.  It was also suggested what I have said might come across as being ungrateful by those who have indeed accepted my into their personal neighborhood of said poetry community. 

Let me be very straightforward and blunt.  In no way am I trying to express anger, sour grapes, or come across as being ungrateful.  In this regard, I am none of these things.  I am simply trying to come to grips with what I see to be a list of expectations in the poetry profession and my inability to meet those expectations. 

For the record, I have had a great deal of success in the poetry community.  Three chapbooks, another about to be released, a full length collection, and publication in many wonderful journals.  I also count among my successes the many acquaintances I have made because of this blog, poetry in general, and the many presses from whom I have purchased books.  I count myself very fortunate to have so many poets consider me worthy of their time and trust when they share news and new poetry with me ahead of the public in general.  Thank you to everyone (and I hope you all know who you are) because you have made my life in poetry something I cherish.

My point is this:  I am at a point in the development of my life as a poet where one might accurately state my serious apprenticeship has begun.  With the amount of success I have had, a certain amount of devotion and effort was required.  And to use the analogy of martial arts, the original black-belt was a mark not of mastery, but that the student was serious about studying the art.  I am not a master by any means, but I am serious about the art.  Unfortunately, I am at a critical juncture I see several of the poets I admire have gone through, and I am simply not equipped to travel along any of the paths they have taken.  I am not speaking of the “every poet takes a different path.”  I am speaking of the routes a poet must choose between when getting ready to make that next advancement, reach that next level of devotion and commitment to his or her art.

What I  know about the next step for me is that it will not be the same next step (again, generically speaking) I have seen so many other poets take.  My commitment to poetry remains high.  I am still in love with poetry.  I still dearly admire the same poets I did a week ago, and I will still take great delight in discovering new poets.  It’s just that I am going to be busy trying to find my own way, watch most of you from a distance.  No anger.  No accusations.  Just how I see my place in all of this.

I hope that if any of you were offended by what I said yesterday, this helps to clarify what my real intentions were.  I hope you can make some sense of this.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Getting it off my Chest

For years I have been toying with the idea as to whether I can call myself a professional poet.  The argument against such a distinction rests in the word, amateur.  Of course.  An amateur doesn’t do something because of the money.  An amateur does something because he/she loves that activity, and there is something noble in that.  I write poetry for the love of writing poetry, not the potential for some monetary or external gain.  I agree.  However, the word professional has its own set of meanings and connotations which are virtuous.  A professional is taken seriously.  A professional lends credibility to a discussion.  A professional has freed him or her self from the shackles of the work-a-day world and has chosen passion and commitment to a higher purpose over perhaps what might be easier and more convenient.

Unfortunately, or perhaps it is better for me this way, I think I have already made that decision, whether I wanted to or not. 

Before reading any more of this blog post, you need to know I am not saying anything negative about those who are able to, in my mind, be or label themselves as professional poets.  I am speaking of my very personal inability to see myself in that capacity.  I have tremendous respect for people who earn their livings as writers and poets, as well as those people who teach writing/poetry/literature in college and are associated with teaching in any capacity.


 I am a high school teacher.  I do not teach in a college writing program, and I do not advise a literary journal.  I edit one, but that is not part of this discussion.  I am part of the ‘problem’ many college instructors bemoan.  After all, I teach high school students all of those nasty habits you hear about from college writing instructors.

 I lack credentials.  Now before you go off the handle, you know as well as I do that the days of a poet being able to make a living as just a poet are gone.  I did not go to graduate school in literature, creative writing, or even American Studies.  I went to college and found poverty to be something I didn’t like, so I went out and got a job.  Yes, I teach, but I teach high school, and in today’s poetry world, I may as well be busting tires and pushing spark plugs at Bob’s 24 Hour Garage, for all the credibility teaching high school lends me.  If you are a poet and you want some credibility as a professional but don’t teach college, you had better be a doctor or a lawyer.  Of course I am exaggerating, but not by much.  There are a few exceptions to what I have said, but you should know there is also a lot of truth.

When I did go to graduate school, I did not do so for the sake of my art.  I went to school where it was cheap and for the most base of reasons.  I wanted a raise.  Again I am going on popular perception, but I seem to lack the devotion to my art which the label of professional demands.  I was not, and I am not ever going to be able to justify attending a graduate writing program so long as I find the cost not only prohibitive, but quite distasteful. 

I do not write scholarly papers regarding the act or art of writing.  I write plain-spoken poems which do not jump headlong into the waters of figurative language, and I do not write about the act of writing with much seriousness whatsoever.  I don’t rate a who’s who of readers of my blog, and I generally stay out of most of the poetry fray when controversy arises.  Well, that is unless I can find a way to release my innermost desire to be sarcastic.  Rest assured, nobody really takes much of what I have to say about writing with any level of seriousness.

I am quite literally out of the loop.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, just a statement of fact.  I am 120 miles away from any population center which warrants a Wal-Mart, let alone any sort of writer community.  I don’t attend readings, and I have to say the closest thing I have to a network is this blog, which because of Facebook will soon be one of only a handful left in existence.  As the months pass, less and less information about the poetry community is coming my way, ad I am forced to rely upon hearsay and Facebook status updates.  How do I learn about books coming out?  I don’t go to readings or faculty parties, and I don’t have anyone in my immediate life who does. I usually have to wait for a blogger friend to tell me or a press announcement on Facebook.  I know a few writers by way of e-mail, and even fewer as real people.  As I was once told by a certain poet, I “don’t know any of these very real people.” Because I am not a part of an English department or a graduate school faculty, I have very little contact with what is happening.

* * *

I have also seen a divergence between what I want to do as a poet and what I keep reading in the books of poetry I have been purchasing of late.  Don’t get me wrong.  I admire a great deal of these poets and what they are able to do.  I am simply seeing I want to go a different route.  For example, in my second Springville book, of the last 10 poems I have written for it, exactly none are the kinds of poems I want to submit for journal publication.  I want them to be the best poems I have written and I want them to be precise in language and image, but I simply cannot see any of them being accepted anywhere for publication based upon their subject matter and my execution. 

In my previous manuscript, I had 19 of the poems written for it accepted almost immediately---I was taken aback at the success I had in getting poems accepted and published.  Then nothing.  And I mean nothing.  I have been submitting other poems from the manuscript now for three years and nothing.  Now I can accept some of the poems may not be particularly well written, or written well enough, but not all of the other poems.  That I find hard to believe.  I may be a blind fool, but I believe in those poems and I cannot accept that every single one of the other poems I have submitted are not worthy of publication. 

I have also seen some pretty dreadful poetry coming out from successful poets.  Now I am not talking about poetry I don’t normally gravitate to.  I am talking about poetry which stinks up the page.  Why do those poems get published and not other poems I am reading from some very fine poets?  That’s the publishing world, and there are just some things I can’t fix the way I want. 

What it does tell me is that Collin Kelley is absolutely correct when he talks about poetry being a matter of taste for the most part.  And what I am writing, for better or worse, doesn’t seem to fall into what is trending right now.  I am not trying to come off as better than what is happening right now, just different.  I would love it if I was asked to be a part of a team to edit an anthology of poems or  contribute  to a collection of essays about writing or poetry.   (And here I must state I do realize one of the reasons I will never be asked to contribute to an anthology of essays on writing or poetry in general is because I don't do much serious writing about the act of writing.  Still,  there is a difference between not writing a lot of serious essays about writing  and poetry, and not being able to write seriously.) I would love to see my poems in Poetry or Western Humanities Review.  I would love to have my poetry anthologized or featured as an editor’s selection, or perhaps nominated for the Pushcart.  I really would.  Unfortunately I am not writing that kind of poetry.  As I stated earlier, I write poems which rarely swim in figurative language, and there are times I wish I could do that, but in the end, that kind of poetry, that place of poetry creation is not where my writing resides.

But because I love poetry, love writing poetry, love reading poetry, I will take what I can get and I will keep addressing my relationship with poetry in the ways I know how.  Even if it means I can never be a professional poet.  I am a little sad to be making this choice, or having already made it, but I know I will still write my poems, still have plenty to say about poetry, still submit poems for publication, still love what most of the poets out in the world are doing.  I will just have to be happy riding the bi-ways and back roads instead of the Poetry Freeway.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

New Book: Karen J. Weyant's Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt

I just received Karen Weyant's book, Wearing Heels in the Rust Belt, and I must say my first impression is that it is a lovely book filled with some really great poems.  Certainly worthy of Main Street Rag's 2011 Chapbook Prize and your patronage.  My head is not in the right place to do a review right now, but I will heap a lot of praise on how Karen is able to use the idea of religion throughout the book and bring the reader around to a more contemplative response to accompany the very real visceral reaction one gets when first reading the poems.  There is also something delightful in the personification she uses at various and unexpected moments within the book I find fascinating.  Go out and buy this book.  I think Karen still has some copies left, so go to her blog and order one directly from her.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Little Things

I have been looking at what I do recently, comparing it with what other poets do.  For those of you out there who say artists shouldn't compare themselves to each other, I can't help it.  I am past the whole thing about comparing myself to see who writes best.  I know I don't and I am okay wit that.  What I am talking about is where most of my poetry comes from.  Most of what I write deals with the past.  My past, the distant past of my home town, but not so much the recent past.  I seem to have a disconnect between the narrative "I" in a poem if it means talking about who I was just a month or year ago.  Ask me who I was 30 years ago and you can't stop my tongue from flapping.  However, if you want me to write truthfully about who I am now, record some episode from my recent, real life, then I shut down. 

I see a lot of other people write about their lives and I see people who can weave their lives into these wonderful poems which are quite moving, but that's not me.  I write poems based in history, and anything more recent than say the past 20 years is going to be skipped as a possible topic for a poem or simply be terrible---too terrible to survive even the first draft.  Another thing I would love to try is magical realism.  I can't seem to get my feet off the ground when it comes to writing/creating a magical realm for my psyche to inhabit.  I can make strange observations, but that isn't really the same, is it?  I am not complaining, mid you, I am just wondering how we (poets) fall into the familiar routines we seem to when creating our poetry. 

Is that all there is to voice, being able to tell a poem without seeing the name?  I'd like to think that's at least part of it, knowing a poet before seeing a name.  I guess I just need to be content to be writing about anything, really.  At least I am writing

Friday, February 10, 2012

Thursday, February 9, 2012

As of Late

Right now my sophomores are testing and I have created their guide for the next unit, so I am going to get up on this blog and do a little bit of writing.

What have I been up to as of late?  Well, I have been looking myself up on Google, and I have been looking up Hobble Creek Review, too.  I have finished my proof reading of my chapbook, Friday in the Republic of Me, and I have been writing and working on poems for my "Springville History" manuscript.  I have 24 poems for the book, and I seem to be moving along nicely.  I have the same problem I always do, narrative poems, but I am still writing and I still have the determination to crack the narrative nut, and that's that.  Here are a few things I have learned:

There are a lot of people who talk or mention Hobble Creek Review in their list of credits.  That's a good thing.  I'd prefer a little more recognition, but then, what literary journal editor wouldn't? 

It's been a while (99 Poems for the 99 Percent excepted) since any of my poems have appeared anywhere.  That bothers me, but I do have some forthcoming in Burnt Bridge, so I am okay with that for now.  What really gets me is the huge smack-down I have received from Submishmash over the past year or so I have used it.  It is a little disheartening to know all my rejections are just a click away when I log on, and I have to admit I am drawn to my past failures like a moth to the flame.  That's why I never keep rejection letters or rejection e-mails.  I can forget them and move on.  I understand why records are kept, but I really do prefer my lack of organizational skills in this realm. 

My blog is really losing a lot of traffic.  Now, I don't know whether that is a result of the blogging world decreasing, more people using a reader of some kind, or simply because I am not the awesome draw I used to be.  However, I do know my old blog had an average of 30-35 unique visits per day, and this blog I am lucky to get 5-10, and the truth is, at least 5 are my own visits from my school computer as I have occasion to check, read other blogs, and write new posts.

I don't do nearly enough to promote myself as a poet.  My web presence in general is not nearly what it should be.  I have been reading books and I have been doing a lot of looking around, but I have not left very many footprints.

Friday in the Republic of Me is going to be a really great little chapbook.  Michael Czarnecki, over at Foothills Publishing is doing a lovely job with the layout and design.  I think it will end up being a fun little book to own.  Once again I am asking for people to buy directly from them because they need the support, as all small presses do.  You must get tired of me telling you all to buy more books, but I don't care.  It needs to be said.

Addendum (and I am not being falsely modest):

I am still amazed and flattered when poets I admire refer to me as a poet.  Some people don't realize how wonderful a thing that truly is.  Thank you.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Always a Bridesmaid . . .

 . . . but it's not like that is a bad thing in some cases.

I don't mind telling you if I had to do half the crap I see some poets doing just to be known by other poets for doing poet things, I would be dead by now.  I mean it.  There are a lot of things I would live to do inside of the poetry community, but there are some things which simply scare me to death.  But then, I am certain the overwhelming majority do all that crazy stuff because they love it.

Have at it, all ye laurels, have at it.  I admire you and all, but boy, I sure like my down time.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hobble Creek Review is Live!

Hey everyone:

I know how you like new blog posts from me on the weekend, so I am letting you all know Hobble Creek Review is now live.  You should go read the issue and then tell everyone you know to go read it.  You know you want to.  You know all the cool kids are reading Hobble Creek Review.  You want to be cool, don't you?

Here's who you can expect to find in this issue:

Paul David Adkins              
Therese Clear                    
Grace Curtis                      
Maya Ganesan                   
Joseph Harker                    
Jason Hertz                        
Kathleen Kirk

Brandon F. Miller                      
David Oestreich                  
Lee Passarella                   

Sylvia Byrne Pollack           

Brian Simoneau                  
Ken Turner

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bees: Poem from the distant past

 Here is a poem I am going to take some time with and see if I can make better.  Maybe I will try to make it a different kind of poems.


“At first they seemed just errant bits of shade,
until the humming grew too loud to be denied
as the bees flew in and out, as if choreographed”

–Eleanor Rand Wilner, “The Girl with Bees in her Hair”


You’ve read the headlines, I’m sure. All the bees
are disappearing from around the United States—
what researchers call Colony Collapse Disorder.

Millions of bees are simply abandoning their hives
as if they’ve stopped taking their MAOI’s,
to discovered they don’t like themselves any more.

Leaving the queen and their developing pupae
the adults leave no trace of themselves as they search
for their lost childhood amid the scattering winds.


Researchers are puzzled. Blaming everything they can
from parasites to pesticides, they blindly offer
this small modicum of well thought out advice:

“Do not combine collapsing colonies with strong colonies.”
“If you feed your bees sugar, incorporate antibiotics.”
“Hide the abandoned hive, as to discourage coming home.”

Most important, if you see honey bees where you
have never seen them, report your sightings
to the proper authorities and try to act normal.


With the disappearance of all the honeybees, experts point
to the decline of the almond crop and global warming,
laying yet another doomsday scenario at our feet.

I believe they have forgotten the music of bees en masse,
that noise of Yeats, the solace of the world like a choir,
harmonizing with all the other beasts, great and small.

I myself will miss their dance, their swarm, men wearing them
for beards. I will not soon forget that imagined masterpiece
of Monet: Tiny specks of light against a canvass of meadow green.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

The At-Home Poet's Workshop

     I was just asked by a friend who read a previous post to explain some of the things I do to create a writer workshop environment seeing that I am all alone.  He wanted me to say more than, "I just write."  He wanted to know what things I do to give myself a construct for writing without the benefit of other writers to urge me on.  Here are five things I suggest writers, specifically poets should try to do if they are on their own.  Of course, most poets know these things already.  As creatures of solitude and habit, we are prone to learning different ways to generate ideas and poems.

      Feel free to share your ideas in the comments or on your own blog.

           1.  Read.  I mean it.  Too many poets say they read for pleasure, and because they love this or that particular genre, but not enough pick up a book determined to actually learn something new from it.  There is a sort of osmosis with reading, but why settle for that?  Read not just for pleasure, but to consciously learn how the masters craft sentences and thoughts.  As poets, no genre or type of reading is benign.  We poets have a responsibility to absorb everything.  So get to it and don’t be a passive reader.
      2.  Copy.  I have talked about this before, but copy out a few poems.  Whether you write them out by hand or type them, it makes little difference.  The very act of copying out really great poems will teach you a lot about how they were written and what specific choices the poet made.  Copying out poems is what taught me the most about line breaks at a time when I was really terrible at it.  I still struggle with breaks, but I am a whole lot better than I used to be.  Learn from the best.  See the world as they see it, if only for a moment or two.

      3.  Imitate.  Write your own version of the poems you admire.  Write your own version and put them into the context of your own life.  This is more than a fun workshop I teach on a regular basis, it is how I learn about strophe and conceit.  By imitating a poem you can see the obstacles the poet faced, you start to see solutions, too.  I also use this activity when I am blocked.  Do I ever count these poems as mine?  Not until I have revised them to the point they no longer resemble the original, but the revision of these imitation poems can be quite entertaining and instructive.  Imagine learning why one poem works in one form, but maybe not another poem in that same form.   

      4.    Steal.  Go on-line and simply steal quotes and phrases.  Record these thefts into a notebook to be saved for later.  I am a compulsive thief when it comes to quotes I can later use for epigraphs.  I use them for old poems and for new poems.  I will even use them to start a poem from scratch, meaning I answer the question the quote begs, and move on from there.

      5.  Deconstruct.  Take one of your of poems and turn it into a prose poem.  Take one of your old poems and turn it into a sonnet.  Make certain it is a poem you hold near and dear to your heart because you need to ensure you are taking the exercise seriously.  Note what you are forced to change, what is made impossible, and that which becomes easier.  As you watch one of your own poems become something else, you are exposed to ideas of transformation you normally would not see. New expressions become possible, and new is always good when it comes to your writing, even if it reaffirms your decision to stay with older, more familiar forms.