How to Write a Poem (from ‘Three Instructive Poems’)

1. How to write a poem

The first line must begin
With a succinct, even abrupt
Completion of the sentence
Begun in the title.

By the third or fourth line
Which must be notably longer
A superior word looms up –
“Susurrous” for example.

A bit further on is the correct place
For some sort of idea,
Perhaps that a grandchild
Is a fruit tree in spring

Or that the writer has just
Come back – in galoshes usually –
From gathering duck eggs
And connects the dark eaves

With memory or the multi-branched
Candelabra of the Future. If it’s not
Already too late, here should occur
An obscure word like “olid”

(Smelling offensively) or “operculum”
(Fish’s gill cover, lid or valve
Closing a shell aperture)
With then a nudge in the direction

Of extensive travel on the Sub-Continent
With submersion in the Ganges
Where one must encounter detritus
Which may be equated to memory…

By now the poem should be
Swaying about like a human pyramid,
Perhaps even toppling, and the problem
Is that of finding an exit strategy.

Something extreme is called for,
The return of the grandchild, say,
With some telling detail of a fall
From an orchard ladder,

Or an encounter in Bali
With a particularly olid jackfruit
Whose rancid kerosene sweetness
Pursues us down the corridors of memory.


from John Watson, River Syllabics (2009). By permission of Picaro Press and John Watson

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