Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

June 1, 2006

Getting a Poetry Column

Filed under: Uncategorized — Clattery MacHinery @ 11:35 pm

Recently, Frank Wilson of the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote the article about online poetry, Some is quite good, but is it literature? In it, he notes that “as with the blogosphere vs. the MSM, online poetry has something to do with getting around official gatekeepers.” Let me suggest to you online poets, to be a gatekeeper in the print world by getting a poetry column in a local paper.

Not in all cases, but in most, there is a local newspaper that has no poetry column. Supply them with one. If one says no, ask another.

Each week or month, present a poem or two by a local or visiting poet, or feature a poem about the locality written from anywhere in the world. Do not include your own poetry in the column, however.

Elizabeth W. Garber is the poet laureat of Belfast, Maine. Her column, “A Year of Poetry from a Wealth of Maine Poets,” appears in Village Soup, which serves Knox County. Here is her latest: Mother and daughter poets in the May garden. Two poems, one each by a mother and her daughter. Garber comments before each poem, and then asks readers to send suggestions to her e-mail address. .

She then gives an invitiation for readers to join her at the local library for a poetry series. It’s an excellent series. Well done

What might you put there in your column? Your book, or blog, online e-zine, some organization you spearhead or belong to? Something like, “Jane Doe is the editor of the such-and-so online poetry jounral, and will be reading at the The Grille downtown at 236 Main Street this Sunday at 6:00.”

Let’s look at Ted Kooser’s latest, a column carried by newspapers throughout the country:


American Life in Poetry: Column 062

Gardeners who’ve fought Creeping Charlie and other unwanted plants may sympathize with James McKean from Iowa as he takes on Bindweed, a cousin to the two varieties of morning glory that appear in the poem. It’s an endless struggle, and in the end, of course, the bindweed wins.


There is little I can do
besides stoop to pluck them
one by one from the ground,
their roots all weak links,
this hoard of Lazaruses popping up
at night, not the Heavenly Blue
so like silk handkerchiefs,
nor the Giant White so timid
in the face of the moon,
but poor relations who visit
then stay. They sleep in my garden.
Each morning I evict them.
Each night more arrive, their leaves
small, green shrouds,
reminding me the mother root
waits deep underground
and I dig but will never find her
and her children will inherit
all that I’ve cleared
when she holds me tighter
and tighter in her arms.

Reprinted from “Headlong,” University of Utah Press, 1987, by permission of the author, and first published in “Poetry Northwest,” Vol. 23, No. 3, 1982. Copyright © 1982 by James McKean, whose most recent book is “Home Stand,” a memoir published in 2005 by Michigan State University Press. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.


I like the way he does this. A little paragraph, then on with the poem. I can picture the reader with the paper open on the table, finishing the crossword, flipping to the poem, then looking for the box scores. The column finishes with credits to the poem, instead of this information being integrated into the comments leading up to or following the poem. This leaves little room for the promo, something Kooser would not be interested in, as Garber above is. You will get the peruser to glance beneath the poem, but possibly not to read two good-sized paragraphs of information before finding the link to your most recent book.

Let’s look at what Bill Diskin, the York PA’s poet laureate, does. Here is his latest Poetryork column: Thirty years of laughter and verse. This is a pretty nifty idea. He writes the intro, an interesting little essay, but before the poem he has this:

To submit poems: Submit poems to or to Bill Diskin, c/o The York Daily Record, P.O. Box 15122, York PA 17405. Please include your full name and phone number on every page.

Bill Diskin is Poet Laureate of the City of York. He teaches poetry and is director of admission and marketing at York Country Day School. He can be reached at

He is not counting on any reader glancing beyond the poem before the reader flips to the sports page. We get the essay, then the blurbs, and only then the poem.

If you want to get fancy, this can be done with brevity. Robert Pinsky is currently doing the Poet’s Choice column for the Washington Post. Before we get the current poem, we get some thoughts, then an older poem, something from the canon, then some thoughts, then the current poem, then some final thoughts. Not a bad model to follow or take ideas from. He finishes with credits to the poet he has chosen, because as with Ted Kooser, there is no need for Robert Pinsky to tout anything.

All this talk about promos and such, how about just following the lead of the Lawrence Journal-World: Poet’s Showcase. A poem, with a brief bio of the poet, and that is it. If anyone wants to submit, or find out who the poetry editor/selector is, she will have to call, or dig for the e-mail address on a different page. You can do this, as long as you get the submissions, or getting appropriate poems is easy enough for you. This is how the The Guardian does it, and they get poems from all over the world, usually themed to an article they are featuring.

Here is another approach. Suppose you will not be going the submission route, that you will find the poetry you want. Maybe you will read a poetry book that just came out, contact the poet and publisher for permission, and do an article on a poem you found. Here is David Biespiel’s column in the Oregonian: Poetry. He begins with a fine essay, follows with the poem, then the column ends like so:

(Selected from “John Keats: Poesie,” translated by Mario Roffi, Einaudi, 1983).

David Biespiel’s most recent book of poetry is “Wild Civility.” Editor of Poetry Northwest, his anthology, “Long Journey: Contemporary Northwest Poets,” is due out in the fall. His column on poetry appears one Sunday each month.

If your newspaper does not have a poetry column, they may be quite pleased that you offered. Here is your opportunity to become a gatekeeper in the print world, but also draw attention to any online projects you have. Notice too, how your newspaper may publish your column online. Here comes the opportunity to link your online readers to your newspaper column.


Think of this more as a bud than a bloom.



  1. This reminds me–there used to be a regular poet in our community newspaper, but he published his own work. Almost all of it was end rhyming verse based on some local issue or current event. They were basically doggerel, but I guess people enjoyed them. The paper stopped carrying them a few years ago.

    Your idea sounds much more interesting and something I would look forward to reading. Hmm. I have a friend who is a regular columnist for the paper. Perhaps the time is right for something different poetically.


    Comment by LJCohen — June 11, 2006 @ 3:34 am

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Let me know, please, how it works out.

    Thanks for stopping by.


    Comment by Bud Bloom — June 11, 2006 @ 10:29 am

  3. Thanks, Bud, for promoting poetry. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help other communities get poetry into their local newspapers!

    Bill Diskin
    Poet Laureate
    York, PA

    Comment by Bill — July 12, 2006 @ 4:07 am

  4. Hi Bill,

    Great of you to stop by.

    And what a great idea on your two blogs:


    I’ll need to put them into the sidebar here.

    Thanks for the offer too. I’ll keep that in mind.


    Comment by Bud Bloom — July 12, 2006 @ 4:45 am

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