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Prose from Poetry Magazine

A Poem Should Not Be Mean But Behave: Good Breeding for Poems

The difference though, between letter-writers of the past and of the present, is that in other days they all tried to write, and to express themselves the very best they knew how — to-day people don’t care a bit whether they write well or ill.
 Emily Post, Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, 1922



CONCERNING DRESSES AND STRESSES

Fashion and beauty have little in common, though fashion has wiles enough to mimic what’s beautiful.

A remarkable hat will not suffice when paired with a hideous ensemble. Never waste a peerless title on a frumpy or unkempt poem. The inverse of this rule also applies.

The woman of irreproachable style will always veer slightly from current fashion. The poem of genuine brilliance will be consistently misconstrued.

When in doubt, choose the plainer dress, the simpler word.

Beware of faddism, flummery.

How dashing, a tuxedo tailored to fit! What elegance, the made-to-measure gown! In the matter of formal poetry, the practice of altering a traditional pattern to achieve an exclusive, inimitable fit is customary. 
Here, a (hem) line taken in. There, a qua(train) added on. For, as the simple rhyme instructs us: When garment of poetry bespoke be / Your verse shall be spoken most radiantly!

The best suit is always the one that suits best the body that wears it.


TABLE GRACES: WHAT'S REPAST IS PROLOGUE

A metaphor is not an oyster fork, a utensil to be employed on rare and singular occasions. Sonic tension isn’t a pair of sugar tongs, a tool for teatime alone. Image, language, sound. Napkin, plate, knife. Regular, usual implements of the table.

Never pour gravy on an empty plate nor heap flourish upon the vacant husk of a poem.

Let no guest wait long for his meat. Linger not over opening lines. Proceed with main course and poem alike lest shoulder of  lamb turn cold    ...    and even colder shoulder of reader be given.

Do not rush to eat the epicure’s meal. Never give cursory eye to a luminous poem.

Prepare neither banquet nor ballad in haste. It is rude to the process of  both.

It is permissible to eat the peach.


TO FEEL A FUNERAL

Grief: A universal undertaking experienced by one’s Self.

Poetry: An appall bearer.

All sorrow is sacred. The necessity for dignity cannot be over-
emphasized.

Can you see well enough to write in deepest darkness? No? Write anyway.


WITH RUDE MY HEART IS LADEN: A MISCELLANY OF POETIC COURTESY

Never interrupt a conversation. Don’t speak when a poem is speaking to you.

Honor thy father and mother. Learn the contemporary classics.

When witty, refrain from self-congratulation. Insufferable are they who titter at their own bon mots.

The well-bred poem is neither loquacious nor reticent, neither garrulous nor muttering.

A lounging demeanor telegraphs lassitude. Poem: Stand up!


WHEN TWO ROADS DIVERGE

Obey no rule that impedes good art.

More from this issue

This poem originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of Poetry magazine

  • Born in Bay City, Texas, poet and editor Jill Alexander Essbaum was educated at the University of Houston, the University of Texas, and the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest.   Influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Simon Armitage, and Sylvia Plath, Essbaum’s poems bring together sex, divinity, and wordplay, blithely...

Prose from Poetry Magazine

A Poem Should Not Be Mean But Behave: Good Breeding for Poems

  • Born in Bay City, Texas, poet and editor Jill Alexander Essbaum was educated at the University of Houston, the University of Texas, and the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest.   Influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Simon Armitage, and Sylvia Plath, Essbaum’s poems bring together sex, divinity, and wordplay, blithely...

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