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Advice To Poets


We were looking at Madeline Tiger's poem "To the Mother from Scarsdale Who Asked about Publishing Her Daughter's Poems" from Birds of Sorrow and Joy  from Marshhawk Press during the month of Mother's Day, with National Poetry Month just passed and Father's Day a month away.

It set us to thinking about what advice you might have for the younger poets. You might view this as a mother or father to a child (your own or an imagined one), as a poet to parents, teachers or your younger self? Would you send them on their poetic way or send them down the other road?

Your poem's title should address as specific a person as possible, even if you are writing a dramatic monologue.

More poetry by Madeline Tiger online

For more about this prompt and others, visit the Poets Online blog.



I have given you the alphabet
its geometry of angles and curves
its music and mouth feel
and now you want to know how to string it
like brightly colored clay beads
or the painted macaroni you necklace for me.
You want to set the letters in motion,
to see yourself take shape.
So again I give you your name,
the one I whispered when you emerged
brick and bruised from my translucent body.
You copy it in red crayon and wobbling hand,
practice it on the driveway in chalk,
recite the letters from your car seat.
Other words will come in time,
from abacus to maelstrom, melodious
to zygote. I hope you pluck and savor
each one like a peach fresh from the branch.
I want to watch you learn the carpentry,
how words hammered together hang
like doorways - how reading is an exit
and writing, a welcome mat.

Lauren Cerruto


It's all Eros and Thanatos, no matter what your teachers said.
Sigmund was right.
Connection and reproduction, dissolution and destruction.
Do your homework-
Fall in love
have sex
die a little
love again.
Promote life figuratively and literally.
Follow the silk road down
and lie in the heather
drunk to the point of not caring.
Smoke cigarettes while out for drinks
with Destrudo and Libido.
Such a cruel knowledge they possess
that you'll gladly pick up the check.
Each time, a small death
at the tip of a tongue.

Ken Ronkowitz


I see you there
Staring blankly at me
Your flat
Pale face
Accusing and hungry

I have surrounded you
With beautiful images
But they are not good enough
You want me to fill you
With vibrant color
With unique life
From the untamed regions
Of my soul

You demand too much
You are too empty
Like an old boyfriend I had
In high school
Reflecting only
What I see fit to give

Well today
Your blind white stare
Doesn’t move me
So I leave you to sit in lonely contemplation
Of your folly
While I go clean the kitchen
And look for inspiration
In the iridescent patterns of grease and light
Floating on the mysterious surface
Of dish water

T. L. Massey


I remember the fable
Of Robert Louis Stevenson,
Almost a prose poem
With the visitor saying
To the people of the town No to every question
That they wanted
to hear
Yes, yes, yes.

So don't be part of those
Who are always saying
Maybe, perhaps, no.
When young you may think
You catch more flies with
Pungent vinegar
But saucers of honey
Move the lips of loves
Beyond your youth.
The two sticks of the old man
the black chalk drawing
By Goya
Aun aprendo
(I am still learning)
Frame all our thoughts.

Edward N. Halperin


To write a poem, my child,
Is to capture a thought and feeling
As it tickles your brain before disappearing forever,
And express it with ease.

Catching my breath with excitement,
I write and rewrite to define the tone and the meaning
Until pleased and sated I put my paper aside.

Reading it two days later, as if for the first time,
I’m not sure whether it’s OK, asking friends for comments I mostly ignore.
Then with hesitance I accept my poem, enjoying the elation of success.

My child, when you have a quiet moment,
You might want to try your hand at poetry.

Ellen Kaplan


If I were the father of children
I would tell them the sky is blue denim
and they would worship the moon.
People, meeting them on the street,
would pause and wonder, wonder and smile.
My children would have the certain knowledge
that summer's color is caught in autumn's air.

Ron. Lavalette


I let you slip through my mother-weary fingers,
not only because there were so many children
and I was so busy holding them all together
in clothes and food, and it was easier to let
quicksilver slip through my fingers;
but because I held sacrosanct
your father’s words in my heart.
(He had always treasured the quicksilver in me.)

I watched you
and listened to you
although you didn’t say much to listen to.
But because you danced
and brought your friends to dance in our house
and put on programs at your school,
I took you to plays and concerts
and introduced you to actors and dancers
while your dancing eyes took it all in.

And when you were in your teens
you had a boy friend with whom you traveled
and who wrote poetry
which you sent to me to read.
But you kept your own words to yourself;
collecting them, treasuring them, correcting them;
forming them into the constructions of your need.

Then you began to sew your thoughts into what you wore
silently stitching ideas and dreams with the thread
that you selected along with buttons
and fabrics and patterns to fit your style,

which began to define you as you gradually
corrected your grammar and your spelling
and your way of meeting others
with your gracious smile;
gathering them in
suggesting to them that they mattered,
that they had a place with you
in your heart,
in your home,
in your vocabulary of love.

All of this while you carved in ivory and antler
thousands of visions
set to music from your earphones
until your fingers wore out
(along with patience with patience
- with your present husband).

Then your quicksilver ran free at last::
past barriers you’d set - for a time -
which others thought you’d set forever there;
except for mother and for father.
Who’d rejoiced at the glowing
deluge of your quicksilver
pouring into the mainstream
of the flowing outward,
onward, of your Self !

Catherine LeGault


"Tell me not in joyous numbers
We can make our lives sublime
By – well, at least, not by
Dabbling much in rhyme."
Stephen Crane from Posthumously Published Poems

You learn the brandished lines
arranged in strange cacophony
the pause and rush of words
Dog-damned curse of verse
the pain chained in uncertain form
iambic proliferation lost in void
and you wonder, you wonder
just who cares anymore.

It’s never-ending, the lines
that rhyme in breath, the death
they march in years, decades
the faded breast, best now tarnished
and failing the call, they fall
in lonely, frozen heartbeats
sleep, their scourge of night
robs them of sight, of any hope.

A sonnet mourned a rhythm gone
the echoed “Boomlay, boomlay… boom,”
with no room in the Renaissance
a light slowly slipped away
the day was nothing special
this death was nothing new
a thousand went before him
a thousand more will come.

So when a voice speaks to you
and says she likes the rhyme
feel the surge, the quickening
the rhythm of the moment
in firm and steady heartbeats
and for this time write
of a time lost in memory
of what all might have been.

James M. Thompson


I hand you our fashion; I hand you the bone and sickle, my child.
Take them up and carry on.
I hand, each,

as one hands down a diadem
and cross; yours to wear, yours to carry,
yours to fashion.

as much as burdened shoulders
and a thorn-pinched forehead are mine.
Take them up.
I watch with heavy heart.
I have no choice but to turn over.
Yours is not the kingdom of Heaven here on earth, my child.
The bone, its marrow.
The sickle, its whistle.
Take them.
They are yours as much.
I watch with heavy heart.
I have no choice.
Carry on.


(A Pantoum)

Adrienne, here's my best poetry advice.
Write universal themes and subjects,
Full of soul-turning phrases, and memorable
Characters grappling with issues past one's prime.

Write universal themes and subjects
Using unforgettable imagery with enduring truths,
Characters grappling with issues in divergent forms.
Master styles of poetry and read, read, write.

Using unforgettable imagery with enduring truths,
Surprise your reader, shake their minds,
Master condensed styles, write concentrated readings
On big subjects, not relationships, family, or children.

Surprise your reader, shake their minds, Niece,
By weaving charming truths in your completed poems,
Forget little subjects: relationships, family, and children.
Write! Write to make the reader come alive!

By weaving charming truths into your poems,
Using dramatic immediacy to tease and thunder,
Your writings will make the reader come alive!
Adrienne, here's my best poetry advice

Carey S. Fontaine