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How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

Good poetry, the best poetry, comes out of us through experience and inspiration. Often the poet’s best work seems to spring into the mind unbidden, demanding that he or she stop to write it all down immediately. It is as if the subconscious (or a higher consciousness) has constructed the poem and has just been waiting until our mind is not paying attention, and then it lets the idea, the poem out. But, what many poets have found is that the more they practice poetry and expanding their techniques, the better those unbidden poems, unthought-out poems, become.

The brain or mentality of a person is a funny thing. It goes down the easy pathways, and if you practice something, you create those pathways, you dig them in and create a royal road for your thoughts to travel. That includes both your conscious and unconscious thoughts. So it is with poetry. You must create the pathways, through forms and devices and other elements of the poet’s craft, through exercises and practice.

I have been known to get into festivals of form with certain short poetic structures, like limericks, haiku, or clerihew. Sometimes these will be with friends so that there is heavy interaction. After ten or twenty rounds, I no longer have to think to put my words in the form. They come preformatted. My subconscious takes over just as it does for typing words or using my mouth to speak. I don’t think about these things consciously. They just happen.

That is how you should be with poetry. Forms and devices should be second nature to you. And the way to get there is to practice. If you come up with a new metaphor every day for a month, your brain will keep shooting them out for a year or a lifetime. It’s how the brain works.

So, if you want better poetry, practice better poetry. If you want richer poetry, practice richer poetry. Read it, write it, speak it, memorize it. Your practice poems don’t have to be great or even good. You can throw them away, but when the real inspiration hits, you won’t have to go looking up the form of a sonnet or a sestina. It will just fall out of your brain.

So, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?

Practice, practice, practice!


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