For your third August challenge of 2019, explore poems about poems with Foyle Young Poet Danique Bailey. Find out what meta-poetry is and pen some of your own clever verse for the chance to win publication!
The challenge: write a poem about writing poems.
Some of my favourite poems are experimental and have an element of self-awareness – they know they’re poems. So today your challenge is to write a poem about poetry. You could write from the perspective of a poet writing a poem, or from the perspective of a poem that is being created – or something else. You could take inspiration from the creative journey of a poet – yourself, or someone entirely fictional. These kinds of poems can be called ‘meta-poems’. ‘Meta’ is a Greek prefix meaning ‘above’ or ‘beyond’, and has come to mean anything that refers to itself. This is a meta-poetry challenge!
One way to interpret this challenge is to write a poem about the process of writing poems. Read ‘This is not a poem’ by Anthony Anaxagorou. The poet uses a self-aware poem to show how inadequate language and poetry are when faced with the horrific injustices in society, such as misogyny, racism and class inequality. It makes the poem even more fierce and poignant:
because today I am not a poet
and this is not a poem
when eloquent words fail me and I can’t capture
the struggle of the poor through the metaphysics of language
Even though Anaxagorou is himself a poet (and now a publisher), he says ‘poetry / isn’t for me / it’s for people who can use words like odoriferous’. This poem explores the place of poetry in society, while also tapping into the political history of the UK – big topics. You, too, might be inspired to write about how poetry fits into our current political climate through meta-poetry.
You might want to create a poem that focuses on the relationship between the poem and the reader. For example, Ishmael Reed’s ‘Beware: Do Not Read This Poem’ is a great example of the use of imperative (i.e. telling people what to do) to directly engage readers, creating the feeling of being consumed by a poem:
back off from this poem
it is a greedy mirror
you are into this poem. from
the waist down
nobody can hear you can they?
Perhaps you could write a ‘Do Not Do X With This Poem’ poem too.
Alternatively, you could also respond to this challenge by writing from the perspective of the poem itself. Imagine you are a poem that has just been created. How do you feel about being created? Are you excited and energised, loving the attention? Does your author place you in a magazine or enter you into a competition? Are you jealous of the other poems that get more attention and praise than you do? Do they read you aloud to their friends, parents or workshop group? Do you feel misunderstood and frustrated? Do you hate being constantly torn apart and analysed? Do you simply want to be left alone?
Karen Glenn’s ‘THE POEM WANTS A DRINK’ is written from the perspective of a poem, frustrated with being constantly analysed. Glenn personifies her poem – this means that she gives human characteristics to something which isn’t human, in this case a poem:
In the workshop, students analyze
what each poem wants, what each one
strives to be. Well, this poem is
a layabout with limited ambitions. It wants
How can you turn your poem into a person? What kind of person is it?
Is it ‘a layabout with limited ambitions’, or is it secretly a dancer at heart – or a physicist? Is it a middle-aged woman? Or is it a small child who just wants to go to bed? What does your poem want – and what’s it going to have to overcome to get it?
You could also address this challenge by personifying a type of poem, or a poetic feature itself, like language, punctuation, rhythm, structure or form. As an example, ‘On Poetic Form: A Short Essay’ by Philip Gross turns the idea of poetic form into a living, breathing person:
The forms stands in the corner of the room
like a man made of glass. All he can be
is how the light bends through him…
To personify the poetic form here, Gross focuses on what it is, and how it could be described, rather than giving it human emotions and motivations. You might like to have a go at describing a poetic feature in a similar way. How might you describe punctuation? How could you describe rhythm? What does it look like, smell like, sound like? Does it sit, stand, walk? Is it mysterious or simple? Big or small? Does it live inside or outside? What do you wonder about it? What do you know?
These ideas are all just prompts if you feel stuck – feel to break free from them entirely and take your poem in a completely different direction.
Write a poem that is self-aware in some way. Perhaps your poem will be about poetry, writing or poetic form, or maybe the poem will speak in the first-person, or the writer will speak about writing – or something else entirely! You can interpret this prompt in whatever way you like.
Workshop ideas and top tips
- Make a list of places where you’d expect to find poetry, and where you wouldn’t. Could you write a poem about a poem that does/doesn’t fit into its surroundings, just as Anthony Anaxagorou writes about how poetry doesn’t seem to fit into society?
- Take a break. Go for a walk. Observe people. Observe things. Imagine how different objects might feel which aren’t human. Your pens. Your chair. The trees. The chewing gum you’ve been munching non-stop while trying to get rid of your writer’s block. Think from the perspective of something that isn’t human.
- Consider unusual perspectives. You could be a poet, a poem, or alternatively the narrative could be from someone else looking in on them. For example, maybe a dog is narrating as it looks at its owner creating a poem. Have fun with it!
- Look at other examples of non-human things that were created by humans. How did they feel and respond? For example, in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, the monster felt rejected and misunderstood after being created. Perhaps a poem would also feel rejected after being created by a human who is not happy with the final result.
- Read other poems about poetry. Some of my favourites are: Eve Merriam’s ‘How To Eat a Poem’ (a great reminder that simple poems can be just as effective), Frank O’Hara’s ‘Why I Am Not a Painter’, ‘This will give you poetry’ by Yrsa Daley-Ward, Antony Owen’s ‘I read a technically perfect poem about absolutely nothing’, Billy Collins’ ‘Introduction to Poetry’ and George Oppen’s ‘Five Poems about Poetry’.
Best of luck! We can’t wait to read your entries.
Selected poets will be published on Young Poets Network and sent an exclusive Young Poets Network notebook, poetry books and other poetry goodies. This challenge will be judged by Foyle Young Poet Danique Bailey.
How to enter
This challenge is for writers aged up to 25 based anywhere in the world. The deadline is midnight, Sunday 15 September 2019. You can send a poem written down, or a recording as a video or as an audio file. If you are sending a written version of your poem, please type it into the body of your email. If you are sending a video or audio file, please attach it to the email (making sure it’s no bigger than 4MB or it won’t come through) or send us a link to where we can see/hear it.
Send your poem(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, date of birth/age, gender, and the county (or, if you’re not from the UK, the country) you live in and the subject line ‘August challenge #3’. If you are aged 12 or younger on Sunday 15 September 2019, you will need to ask a parent/guardian to complete this permission form; otherwise, unfortunately we cannot consider your entry due to data protection laws.
We welcome entries from schools and youth groups. Use this entry form to enter students from your class or group.
If you would like us to add you to the Young Poets Network mailing list, include ‘add me to the mailing list’ in the subject line of the email. If you would like us to confirm that we’ve received your entry, include ‘confirm receipt’ in the subject line. You may refuse to provide information about yourself.
By entering, you give permission for Young Poets Network and The Poetry Society to reproduce your poem in print and online in perpetuity, though copyright remains with you. Please do be sure to check through the general Terms and Conditions for YPN challenges as well.
If you require this information in an alternative format (such as Easy Read, Braille, Large Print or screenreader friendly formats), or need any assistance with your entry, please contact us at email@example.com.
Danique Bailey is an 18-year old student from London who enjoys creating poetry, stories and visual art. She was commended in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award 2018, and was long-listed for the BBC Young Writers’ Award in the same year. She cannot wait to read your entries!
While you’re in a creative mood, do check out our other challenges:
- August challenge #1 asks for a poem capturing a specific moment.
- August challenge #2 on How-to poetry challenges you to instruct your readers in your poems!
- August challenge #4 calls for questioning poems. How can you use questions to structure your work?
- The Timothy Corsellis Prize asks you to respond to poets of the Second World War, from poets like Keith Douglas who died in the Normandy D-Day landings, to German soldier-poet Günter Eich, to Anna Akhmatova who lived through the war in Russia, and celebrated Hungarian poet Miklós Radnóti who was murdered in a forced march.